Buffer Zoning

Randy Grider
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I used to run escort with a couple of truckers who would often drive bobtail side-by-side when approaching a construction zone that merged from two lanes down to one on a divided highway.

I could almost feel the impatience and hatred from other drivers who were forced to file in behind us until we were through the congested area. They often shared their frustrations with me in finger form when they were finally able to get around us.

I’ve also witnessed this blocking technique from other truckers when approaching wrecks where traffic has to funnel into a single lane. I’ve seen truckers in the left-hand lane quickly move over to allow emergency vehicles through, only to jump back into the hammer lane once an ambulance or police car is clear.

Some four-wheelers – and maybe even some truckers – may view this as a case of an open invitation to road rage. But one can also view these truckers as safety-minded individuals who are setting a sensible pace for others in areas where speed and impatient driving can not only lead to longer delays but to disaster.

Excessive speed, inattentive driving and poor judgment in places like construction zones and accident areas are especially deadly. This is true for both major highways and rural two-lanes.

Right now we are approaching the time of the year when fatal accidents in construction zones hit their highest numbers. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, most work zone fatalities occur during the summer and fall when highway construction is at its peak. And the number of work zone fatalities in the United States jumped from 872 in 1999 to 1,093 in 2000, according to the latest figures.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration statistics involving work zone accidents show:

  • On average, from 1995 to 1999, 16 percent of the fatalities involved non-motorists (pedestrians and bicyclists).
  • Approximately 40,000 people a year were injured as a result of motor vehicle crashes from 1995 to 1999.
  • In 1999, 26 percent of the fatalities resulted from motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks.
  • Twenty-nine percent of all fatal crashes occurred on the weekend, while only 13 percent of all fatal large truck crashes occurred on the weekend.
  • In 1999, approximately half of all fatal crashes occurred during the day, while about two-thirds of fatal large truck work zone crashes occurred during the day.
  • The percentage of construction zone crashes on urban interstates was more than twice the percentage of all fatal crashes on urban interstates (14 percent vs. 6 percent).
  • In 1999, the percentage of large truck work zone crashes occurring on urban interstates was much higher than the percentage of all fatal truck crashes occurring on urban interstates (15 percent vs. 9 percent).
  • In 1999, the majority of fatal work zone crashes occurred on roads with speed limits of 55 miles per hour or greater.

Many states have recently adopted fines for speeding that are doubled in construction zones in an attempt to slow motorists down.

The American Trucking Associations has the following tips:

  • Double your usual following distance so you have extra time to react to warnings or hazards.
  • Get into the correct lane well in advance.
  • Pay close attention to operating construction equipment while in a work zone.
  • Remember that most work zone traffic lanes are narrow and don’t have shoulders or emergency lanes.

Recently, I drove through an interstate construction zone where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. While there were no lanes closed, the road had no shoulders. On this day it was pouring rain, which made conditions even more dangerous. Seventeen cars and two tractor-trailers passed me in a 5-mile stretch. All were doing at least 10 mph over the speed limit. Some I estimated were going more than 20 mph over the limit.

“Drive like hell and get there fast,” I remember my father – a career over-the-road trucker – saying many times when passed by a speeding vehicle. While an individual’s final destination may be determined by his good deeds here on earth, that person doesn’t have the right to take others with him on the journey.