Smart Driving: In the zone
In the Zone
Slowing down, paying attention to signs and watching for workers and equipment will help you drive safely through construction areas
By Max Kvidera
As summer approaches, the highway construction season — marked by lime-colored vests, hard hats, orange traffic cones, heavy equipment and flashing lights — is already under way. This year promises to be busier than ever as state and county road departments and construction contractors gear up to complete infrastructure jobs financed by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
Knowing how to safely maneuver through highway construction projects will help save you or your company time and money and avoid accidents. Negotiating highway construction zones requires planning, patience and awareness, drivers and trucking safety experts say.
“It’s an important topic,” says Tom DiSalvi, director of loss prevention at Schneider National. The carrier covers the topic in initial driver orientation and refresher training with its experienced operators. The company utilizes posters, newsletters and discussions among the fleet manager and drivers.
The Utah Trucking Association covers construction zone safety in communication with its members and advertises major construction projects to truckers using heavily traveled interstates through the state, says Terry Smith, UTA safety director.
Key points for successful construction zone driving are in maintaining awareness of proper speeds, other drivers and the need for hands-on logistics.
Smith says the biggest problem is too much speed. Utah’s construction zone speed limit is 55 mph, which is monitored closely, he says. In Utah, as in many states, the fine for speeding is double in a construction area.
Construction sites’ slower speeds are posted and range from 35-55 mph, depending on the state. Paul Garnett, an owner-operator leased to Prime Inc., says most motorists don’t realize that posted limits are designed for passenger cars. Since it requires a much greater distance to stop a tractor-trailer in an emergency, Garnett lightens up on the throttle by 5-10 mph under the posted speed limit. “For me it’s the same as driving on an exit ramp where you want to slow it down,” he says.
Garnett adds he will decelerate even more when passing through a construction area at night or in the rain because it’s then so much harder to see flaggers.
Chris Howard, a driver for K.B. Transportation, says he slows down and maintains a generous following distance. “I try to be 5 mph under the posted limit. It makes a lot of people mad, but it’s safer,” he says.
DiSalvi says slower speeds of 5-10 mph less than the posted limit make it easier to maneuver through lengthy construction areas that may have several S curves. He recommends taking off cruise control.
“Once an accident happens in a construction zone, it closes things right down,” Smith says.
Other drivers often pose a problem when moving through a construction zone. Drivers may not see signage as they approach a work project, or they will try to drive as long as possible in the lane designated to merge into the lane next to it. “They’ll wait to the last moment to make that change to squeeze into an open spot and cause the rest of traffic behind to slow down,” DiSalvi says.