In the Danger Zone
Traveling two seconds behind the vehicle in front at the posted speed may not be sufficient to deal with unexpected occurrences. It is most safe to remember the basic rule of driving: Road conditions must be considered when choosing a safe speed. In work zones, the safe speed may be well below the posted limit if there is a great deal of activity or there are workers close to the lane of travel. Chris Lewis, who pulls a covered wagon east of the Mississippi, says he is especially careful of workers. “You never know what they are going to do, and if you’re going a little too fast, there is nowhere to go if one steps out in front of you,” he says.
Some states ramp up their work zone safety programs in the spring every year. Illinois’ program stresses that truck drivers should burn their headlights and use flashers. In Pennsylvania, it is now a state law that vehicles burn their headlights in construction zones. “Truck drivers often don’t use their brakes but downshift instead, giving no warning they are slowing down to following vehicles,” Monseur says. Also, workers can be present at any time of the day or night, including on the weekends, so you should always adjust your speed in a construction zone, no matter the day or time.
Many states have pending legislation to upgrade laws concerning construction zone infractions. Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Washington all have pending legislation to protect workers. Reckless endangerment of workers can lead to double fines and imprisonment. Michigan’s legislation calls for a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Other states are considering laws making it illegal to disobey a police officer or flagger. In Oregon the legislation includes stipulations for a maximum fine of $5,000 or a year in jail. In South Dakota, DOT employees or their agents will be able to issue citations for speeding if there are workers and posted work zone signs present.
The key to driving safely in construction zones is to maintain your situational awareness and obey posted signs, signals and workers’ directions. Awareness of your situation as you enter and pass through work zones will tell you what your speed should be and allow you to maintain a buffer zone between your vehicle and obstructions as well as other vehicles.
Negotiating the thousands of work zones you will undoubtedly encounter is a part of your job. Doing it well is simple enough, but it is also a primary responsibility the smart driver takes as seriously as backing into a skinny hole between two brand new hoods.
Work Zones Driving Tips
- If you have a laptop you can inform yourself about the location of work zones on your route. Doing so will prepare you for them well in advance. Use the state name and DOT as key words.
- Fatigue, complacency and road rage are dangerous occupational hazards. In work zones, they make matters even worse. Stay awake, alert and in control of your emotions.
- When approaching work zones, scan constantly for vehicles overtaking you. Be especially aware of cars that may have entered blind spots.
- Even if you don’t see a lot of workers, assume some are present. Slow down in all work zones even on weekends and at night.
- Speed and aggressive driving make work zones especially hazardous. In particularly crowded work areas, adjust your speed to fit the situation.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Maintain a safe following distance. Back off when cars go around you to maintain that safe distance.
- Inside the zone itself, increase your vigilance and make sure to look for troopers and workers giving traffic direction. Obey workers’ traffic direction.
- Crossovers to the opposite side of the highway can be bumpy and pitched badly. Negotiate these accordingly. A badly pitched road can cause load shifts or rollovers.
- Use your flashers.