By Joe Palic
Work zone fatalities are usually broken down into two categories; those from occupational accidents involving highway workers, and those from vehicle crashes involving motorists traveling through the work zone.
I don’t mean to trivialize the risks to highway workers because ours is an extremely dangerous occupation, but FHWA statistics consistently show that nearly 90% of all work zone fatalities involve motorists rather than highway workers. My experience closely reflects the FHWA statistics. I can only recall 2 fatalities involving highway workers, but well over a dozen involving motorists.
The most common work zone crash I’m familiar with is where a driver runs into the back of a vehicle that has either slowed or stopped in the work zone. In many of these crashes the driver will claim to have not seen either the entire series of advance road work signs, or the vehicle in the middle of the road that they hit.
It’s sobering to realize that these drivers had not been focused on driving for some distance, and I believe they would very likely have hit anything that was in front of them during that time. It’s also sad that the work zone usually catches the blame for their crash.
I’ve had up-close looks at many work zone crashes. So far I’ve been very fortunate that the crash survivors have always been extricated from the wreckage and moved from the scene before I’ve arrived. However, there have been times where I’ve experienced the unpleasantness of watching the Jaws of Life cut vehicles completely apart to recover bodies. Wrecks are ugly.
I wish all motorists were more aware of how dangerous driving can be. If they were, I’d bet they would stay more focused on the task of driving, especially while in a work zone. It might just save their life.

Joe Palic is the KDOT Area Engineer in Marion

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