The country must do more to protect workers and motorists in work zones. From 2013 to 2020, work zone fatalities reached a 16-year high, with an increase of 45%. In 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation reported 1,000 work zone crashes and 17 deaths. Most work zone crashes in Arizona and across the nation occur because of driver negligence and inattention. However, there are other causes of work zone car accidents and injuries that drivers should know about.
3 Common Causes of Most Work Zone Crashes
A work zone is generally defined as an area where roadwork occurs and may involve detours, lane closures, and moving equipment. While work zones can exist anytime throughout the year, the spring, summer, and fall seasons are often the busiest.
Despite the number of precautions put in place — traffic cones, barriers, and signs — the statistics of work zone crashes and fatalities continue to trend upward. State and federal governments are seeking solutions but often find it challenging to develop effective alternatives to current regulations.
Education and awareness are paramount to any correction proposal. Current research suggests work zone accidents occur because of a mix of potentially preventable situations and actions. When looking at the leading causes of work zone car accidents and fatalities, work zone management and driver distraction and inattention are significant contributors to each.
With construction zone injuries and fatalities expected to climb, state and federal governments must do something. Drivers must also take the time to educate themselves about work zone safety and the three common causes of most work zone crashes.
1. Work Zone Setup and Organization
ADOT oversees all roadway construction projects. The department does its best to incorporate clear signage and project design to ensure the safety of Arizona drivers and workers. Unfortunately, some projects still cause confusion for motorists, resulting in accidents.
Recently, ADOT, the Maricopa Association of Governments, and the Maricopa County Department of Transportation received a $200,000 federal grant to collaborate and research ways of providing consistent work zone information to motorists. The agencies plan to use the grant money to develop and integrate “smart work zone” technologies.
The proposed technological upgrades would reduce traffic through work zones by helping motorists find alternative routes earlier. Also, by maintaining up-to-date work zone reports, ADOT hopes GPS data can prevent surprises for drivers, which reduces the likelihood of accidents.
Improving transportation infrastructure and communication systems should help reduce work-zone traffic accidents. As well, the upgrades and insights from research funded by federal grants should help the state organize and establish more efficient and safer areas for future roadway projects, reducing most work zone crashes.
2. Driver Negligence
Driver negligence is the leading cause of work zone accidents. Negligence refers to careless conduct that results in injury or damage, and it can result in serious legal trouble.
All drivers must operate their vehicles with reasonable care, meaning they must operate with the safety of others in mind. Speeding, failing to yield, or ignoring stop signs are all examples of negligence.
Construction zones require the attention and focus of motorists. Site managers typically post many signs through the work zone, ensuring all drivers know the speed limit, traffic rules, and other pertinent information.
Unfortunately, distracted drivers, such as those talking on cell phones or looking at infotainment systems, may miss warning signs like “work zone ahead” and fail to reduce their speed. These drivers are more likely to rear-end another driver or drive through construction barricades speeding.
As a licensed Arizona driver, you have a responsibility to pay attention and obey all traffic and work zone laws. Neglecting your obligations can result in the severe injury or fatality of others. Most work zone crashes have significant consequences for the at-fault driver, including potential jail time.
3. Road Debris
Debris is an unfortunate side effect of roadway construction projects. When driving through work zones, drivers must pay attention more than signs and other drivers; they should also remain mindful of potential debris.
Work zone debris can be anything from large rocks to dirt piles to bolts, tools, and equipment. Any debris can damage your vehicle, and it can also surprise you, instigating a knee-jerk reaction.
When people get surprised while driving, they may slam on their brakes, swerve, or react in other potentially hazardous ways. Slamming on your brakes in a congested work zone is one of the worst things you can do because it will often cause a collision.
While a fender bender is the most common collision of most work zone crashes and rarely results in severe injury or death, especially at reduced speeds, it can cause more congestion in the work zone. The more traffic in a work zone, the higher the risk of an accident.
As a motorist, it is your responsibility to prepare mentally before traveling through a work zone. You must ensure you are alert and acknowledge the signs stating speed limits and other warnings. Remaining focused on the present moment can help reduce the risk of a crash.
5 Tips for Staying Safe While Driving Through Work Zones
While the state can continue to upgrade work zone systems and regulations, motorists hold significant responsibility for the safety of roadway construction sites. Ultimately, a driver’s behavior contributes to the risk level of the construction zone.
Project managers and city officials can implement requirements for sign and flag placement, dictate proper speeds, specify working area requirements, etc., but they cannot operate your vehicle for you. Whether a driver obeys or ignores traffic laws within a work zone is up to them, but it is a choice.
Ignorance of the law is not usually a defense. Therefore, motorists claiming they did not see speed limit signs despite them being clearly posted and labeled will not excuse liability, especially if an accident occurs because of their negligence. It is best to avoid collisions and crashes at all costs, eliminating the necessity of excuses.
The sad truth is that most work zone crashes are avoidable. To maintain your safety and the safety of those around you, ADOT recommends following a few safety tips.
1. Pay Attention
Work zones are unpredictable areas because they are active construction sites. It is common to see heavy machinery, workers, traffic, and other obstacles. Because of the unpredictability of work zones, drivers need to pay attention.
Speed limits will reduce through active work sites, so be on the lookout for signs. Also, traffic usually merges into fewer lanes when entering and traveling through construction zones. Merge signs should begin well before the site, helping ease motorists’ anxiety.
Drivers must also watch for pedestrians or workers. Most work sites will have at least two people directing traffic with stop signs. Also, some workers will need to guide larger pieces of equipment, like haulers and bulldozers, through site traffic.
Finally, workers might operate close to traffic’s edge. As a driver, it is your responsibility to watch for all potential obstacles or risks, including workers. Therefore, to reduce the likelihood of most work zone crashes, drivers should always keep their eyes on the road.
2. Expect Surprises
Surprises can happen at any moment on a job site. A forklift operator might drop sewer parts into the active roadway; a worker may trip into oncoming traffic; or any other number of accidents that can cause traffic accidents or collisions may occur.
Reduced speeds through work zones are in anticipation of surprises, which is why all motorists should obey the post speed limit signs. Driving too fast through a construction zone puts you and the workers at risk. For example, if a crew member falls into the roadway, obeying speed limits can give you enough time to break before hitting the worker.
Also, besides worker or equipment surprises, motorists need to watch other drivers. While you might obey all posted signs and laws, other drivers may not, so you must be cautious when following them. However, it helps if you stay careful of vehicles in front and behind you. Because speeding is a common issue in most work zone crashes, pay attention to incoming traffic. Always be mindful of safe ways to avoid collisions.
3. Reduce Distractions
Work zones are high-stress zones for drivers. The sites typically cause delays, traffic congestion, detours, and other inconveniences for motorists. When drivers are tense and frustrated, they may resort to distractions, such as music or phone calls. ADOT suggests distractions are a bad idea.
Scanning through music or using your cell phone means taking your eyes off the road. The moment you stop paying attention to the road, you risk an accident. In 2019, the U.S. reported over 3,100 deaths and 424,000 injuries resulting from car accidents with distracted drivers.
When approaching a work zone, prepare yourself. Turn off the car stereo and end any ongoing calls. If you must, turn your phone off and put it in the glove box to remove any temptation to use it. Keep both hands on the wheel, and slow to the correct speed limit when entering the work site. Most work zone crashes occur because of driver distraction.
4. Maintain Slow Speeds
Reduced speed limits are for worker and motorist safety. Slower speeds allow for better reaction times with fewer risks of accidents or casualties. The reduced speed also will enable drivers who may not have noticed work zone signs time to merge safely.
In 2020, Frank Dorizio, a member of ADOT’s Incident Response Unit, was killed by a driver while setting up work zone signs along the I-10. The danger of speeding is real, and it doesn’t matter when you are traveling through a work zone.
Many people disobey speed limit posting in work zones when traffic is light or when construction crews appear absent from the site. Know that disregarding posted speed limits in work zones comes with substantial fines and risks. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, troopers maintain a zero-tolerance policy for motorists speeding through work zones.
Most work zone crashes are avoidable. If motorists pay attention and watch their speed, everyone can go home safely.
5. Leave Room Between Vehicles
One of the most frustrating things for public safety officials and other ADOT officials is to see bumper-to-bumper traffic through work zones. There is no reason anyone should follow so closely behind another vehicle.
Rear-end collisions are a significant concern in work zones. ADOT and many other organizations recommend maintaining a safe following distance at all times. To calculate a safe distance, use the three-second rule.
The three-second rule states that you should have at least three seconds of space between you and the car in front of you. You can determine the appropriate distance by locating a fixed point. Decide on a traffic cone or sign as the set point in a construction zone. After the vehicle ahead of you passes the chosen point, you should be able to count to three Mississippi before passing the same point.
Another rule of thumb in heavy or stand-still traffic situations is to maintain at least one car length between you and the driver ahead of you. Essentially, you want enough distance that you can brake safely if the driver ahead stops suddenly.
Who To Call After Most Work Zone Crashes
Despite your best efforts, crashes can and will still occur in work zones. You might swerve to avoid falling debris or clumsy workers, or another driver may rear-end your vehicle. Accidents happen, and you need to prepare yourself for when they do.
A car accident falls into the legal category of personal injury. While all personal injury lawyers might be capable of arguing car accident claims, it is recommended to find an attorney experienced in arguing car accident claims. If possible, seek legal assistance from a lawyer with experience in work zone accidents in particular.
Most work zone crashes are avoidable, especially if drivers take the necessary precautions. However, an accident always can happen. If you or someone you love is involved in a crash in a work zone, contact Sargon Law Group to schedule a free consultation and discuss your legal options.