On April 7-11, we will recognize 2014 National Work Zone Awareness Week. TxDOT activities across the state will provide an opportunity to educate the public on the hazards of traveling through work zones, and I invite all of you to participate by attending these events.
Facing danger in work zones is unavoidable. We often work inches away from speeding traffic as we build and maintain the Texas transportation system. As transportation professionals, we develop safety systems and procedures. However, the ultimate responsibility for work zone safety lies in the hands of all of us who drive. The two leading causes of work zone crashes are excessive speed and the failure to remain alert while driving. For safety’s sake, drivers must slow down, put away their cell phones, plan for alternate routes and be patient. In fact, the traveling public is more vulnerable in work zones than we are. The majority of injuries and fatalities in our work zones affect drivers and passengers.
At any one time there can be as many as 1,000 active work zones in Texas. Over the past year, we have expanded the use of two safety features designed to get the driver’s attention. First, portable rumble strips in work zones can be seen, felt and heard as motorists drive over them. The rumble strips improve both worker and motorist safety in maintenance and construction areas. Second, the End-of-Queue Warning System uses sensors to measure the speeds of approaching vehicles and then warns drivers about upcoming traffic backups in work zones through portable, electronic signs.
We still have a lot of work to do. Despite increased work zone safety procedures and safety messages, preliminary statistics show that there were more than 17,000 crashes in roadway and maintenance zones in Texas last year, up from 16,700 in 2012. Thankfully, fewer lives were lost, 115 in 2013 compared with 132 in 2012, but one life lost is too many.
TxDOT lost a valued family member on June 25, 2013, when Ciro Lozano, an El Paso District employee, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident while performing maintenance work. Lozano left behind his wife and four children. In addition, six fatalities were reported to us by our contractors. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of their families.
Some parts of the state have an increased need for caution. The areas impacted by the booming energy industry have seen a rise in the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities over the past several years. Heavy trucks and higher traffic volumes are requiring more road repairs and reinforcement, increasing the number of work zones in those regions and increasing the need to be careful.
Be Safe. Drive Smart. Give them a brake. Don’t barrel through work zones. Many messages, one goal. Safety: Mission Zero.
National Work Zone Awareness Week gives us a special opportunity to emphasize the need for caution in work zones, but this is a year-round problem and needs year-round attention.