MURRAY – With April 26-30 marking National Work Zone Awareness Week, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is reminding drivers how their decisions on the road can save the lives of both workers and themselves.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), one person dies every 13 hours and one person is injured every 13 minutes in a work zone in the United States. Work zones can involve highway construction and maintenance workers, utility crews, mowing contractors, brush cutters and tree trimmers.
Work zone statistics fluctuate, but 2020’s incident numbers were a bit lower than 2021. The KYTC reported 905 crashes, 228 injuries and six fatalities in 2020. For comparison, there were 1,251 crashes, 323 injuries and eight fatalities in 2019. In 2018, there were 1,042 crashes, 280 injuries and three fatalities.
The FHWA said four out of five victims in work zone crashes are motorists, not highway workers, which is why officials say it is particularly important for drivers to remain alert while going through work zones. In a typical five-day work week, an average of seven motorists and one worker are killed, the FHWA said.
“I think (the numbers) have probably been pretty steady, but we take the attitude that one fatality in a work zone is one fatality too many,” said KYTC District 1 Public Information Officer Keith Todd. “The thing that I think a lot of people miss is that most of the people killed in work zone clashes are actually motorists, as opposed to workers. Of course, we’re concerned about the safety of our workers and contractors that are working out there, but also, the public falls into that list too. We want everybody to be safe. Any time you’ve got a lane restriction or traffic slowing down, you’ve just got to be more attentive than you would be (in normal circumstances). We just want to emphasize that for everyone to be careful and go home safe at the end of the day.”
Todd said there are currently more than a dozen active work zones in the 12 counties that make up KYTC’s District 1, including the widening project on U.S. 641 South between Murray and Hazel.
“We’re hoping the (work zone) there immediately south of Glendale Road down to Clarks River Bridge is going to wind up soon, hopefully in June or July,” Todd said. “After that completion date, they’ll be moving down to where they’re already working on the realignment that runs from the Clarks River Bridge to the state line. It’s a ‘new terrain’ route, which means it will cause very little disruption in traffic flow for the existing U.S. 641, at least for this first year, so that’s a good thing.”
Todd said there is also a work zone just north of the Calloway-Marshall county line in Hardin, where workers are installing an RCUT intersection where U.S. 641 North meets KY 402/Brewers Highway.
“That is an acronym for ‘restricted crossing U-turn,’” Todd said. “I know there are a lot of folks that commute between Murray and Benton, and there’s a 45 mph work zone speed limit there. The speed limit is reduced there because of the existing traffic signal, so it normally drops to 55 mph (from 65 mph), but since it’s a work zone, we drop it another 10 mph, which puts it at 45 mph there.”
Todd said almost any KYTC employee or contractor he knows has a story about a close call they’ve had with a vehicle, which serves as a reminder to him how important it is for the public to be aware and cognizant of work zone safety issues.
“One thing I find in talking to our employees is that any of our people who have been on the job for more than four or five years, almost all of them will have some kind of a work zone close call or story that they can share,” Todd said. “One of my favorites is from a guy who lives in Trigg County and is now retired. We were talking work zone safety one time, and I got the guys to share some stories, and one of the guys came over and said, ‘You haven’t had the full work zone experience until you’ve had a tour bus brush the seat of your pants as it goes by while you’re working on a guardrail.’
“Apparently, the driver was watching what was going on in the construction zone and didn’t realize he had wandered off the road and brushed the back of the guy’s pants as the bus went by.”
Todd also described a time he watched a UPS dual trailer truck ahead of him roll over on its side after it had veered over to the shoulder of the interstate to avoid hitting a line of traffic near a crash site.
“We used my Swiss Army knife to cut the window out of the truck so the guy could get out,” Todd said. “So in the years I’ve been doing this job, I’ve seen some weird stuff too. Any time you’re out on the interstate, it pays to look ahead. Whenever I’m driving on the interstate, I’m not just looking at the two or three cars in front of me; any time I can see ahead, I’m looking about a mile ahead to see if anybody has brake lights popping on. Because when you see truck brake lights start popping on half a mile ahead of you, you know it’s time for you to slow down and start watching for what’s going on ahead.”
KYTC issued the following tips for driving safely in work zones
• Expect the unexpected. Work zone configurations can change without notice.
• Pay attention. Don’t text or talk on the phone and avoid taking your hands off the wheel.
• Watch for speed limit reductions, narrowing lanes, changing traffic patterns, and – most importantly – highway workers.
• Respect the posted speed limits and safely merge as soon as safely possible, allowing traffic to flow smoothly.
• Be patient. Keep in mind, driving 45 mph instead of 55 mph through a five mile work zone will only add 1.2 minutes to your trip. Speeding and aggressive driving is a major cause of work zone crashes.
• Keep a safe distance on all sides of your vehicles and maintain a safe following distance. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of work zone crash.
• Respect the flaggers and obey their guidance. A flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so you can be cited for disobeying his or her directions.
• Follow instructions on construction signage. Those signs are carefully selected to give drivers accurate information and important warnings.
• Check out goky.ky.gov or use the free WAZE app for traffic and travel information. Select alternate routes if possible to avoid work zones. If the work zone cannot be avoided, expect delays and allow extra travel time.
• Stay calm. Remember that the construction crews are working to make the road better for you.