Doubling traffic fines, increasing highway signage and heightened promotional campaigns have been employed in recent years as ways to improve safety for road workers.
All the efforts are aimed at drawing the attention and reducing the speed of two dangerous types of people behind the wheel: the distracted driver and the speeders.
To encourage safer highways over the last few years, a consortium of organizations, including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, have participated in the Give 'em a Brake campaign, which kicked off May 10 in Lansing. The group announced that more than $200,000 will be spent on statewide billboards, radio and television spots, and more funding will be made available for law enforcement.
"Construction zones aren't just orange barrels and flashing lights," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Tom Boensch. "They contain real workers, and they deserve a safe workplace. Motorists can help keep workers and themselves safe by slowing down in construction zones."
With highway construction season well under way, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan State Police are working together to reduce work zone crashes.
- Up to $500,000 in additional funding for State Police enforcement will be made available.
- Traffic fines have been doubled in work zones.
- Posted speed limits are gradually reduced as vehicles approach construction areas. MDOT is testing the use of rumble strips as a first warning sign.
- MDOT will continue a pilot project started last year with two construction zones that will use "Do Not Pass" signs and enforcement to curb aggressive driving. The test is designed to reduce aggressive lane changes by requiring drivers to switch lanes and merge before the discontinued lane ends.
- MDOT also will continue a pilot project started last year with two construction zones near Muskegon and Grand Rapids that will use "Do Not Pass" signs and enforcement to curb aggressive driving. The test is designed to reduce aggressive lane changes by requiring drivers to switch lanes and merge before the discontinued lane ends.
- And in an effort to protect highway construction workers in Michigan, State Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Highland) has introduced a bill to create stiffer penalties for any motorist who injures or kills a highway construction worker in Michigan. Under SB 373, penalties for injuring a construction worker would be up to a $1,000 fine and up to two years in prison, while the penalty for killing a highway worker would be up to a $7,500 fine and up to 15 years in prison.
If the motorist is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, the punishment could be up to 20 years in prison. The bill is currently pending in the state Senate.
"Drivers in Michigan know that summer road construction is a necessary fact of life here and we all need to slow down and live with it," said Dave Zydna, president of the Michigan Road Builders Association. "Saving a few minutes of time speeding through a work zone is not worth risking someone's life."
Actually, the life motorists save could be their own. The number of U.S. work zone traffic fatalities has increased in recent years from 789 in 1995 to 868 in 1999, the most recent year figures are available. In addition, 40,000 people are injured every year in traffic work zones.
Safety research has shown that the public incorrectly believes that most people killed in work zones are the workers. "The vast majority of people killed in work zone accidents are not the highway contractors and the state people on the job, it's the motorists who are passing through the work zone," said Dean Carlson, president of the Association of State Highway Transportation Officers.
From 1991-1996, there was an annual average of 5,510 crashes and 2,029 injuries in work zones in Michigan. From 1997-1999, there was an annual average of 6,992 crashes and 2,371 injuries, representing a 27-percent increase in crashes and a 17-percent increase in injuries. MDOT says the stepped up construction activity has played a big part.
"By slowing down and staying alert in work zones, you can save more than just the cost of a ticket; you can save a life," said Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. "Michigan's highway construction workers keep our state moving - the least we can do is keep them safe."
WITH 18-WHEELERS and other vehices screaming by just a few feet away, building trades workers deserve all the protection they can get. In 2001 and in the past few years, the Michigan Department of Transportation has been trying a few new tactics to improve work zone safety.