It’s not just a feel-good campaign. Washington’s roads are lined with construction zones this season, and state officials are trying to cut down on accidents around them.
There are so many active construction zones on Washington’s roads today. You probably can’t drive more than a mile before finding some orange cones or a flagger, even in the most rural of areas.
With so many work zones around, Washington state has set aside this week to remind drivers to slow it down around those work zones so everyone makes it home safely.
And state officials aren’t just doing it as part of a feel-good campaign. In 2015, 35 out of Washington’s 39 counties experienced work zone accidents. Only Ferry, Lincoln, Columbia and Garfield counties had a clean construction season.
There were nine fatal crashes and 17 accidents that ended in serious injuries. It adds up to more than 1,600 accidents in work zones not to mention the traffic backups that stretch out behind them – we all have had that experience.
So what is causes all these accidents?
“Speed, inattentive driving, and following too closely,” said Michael Allende with the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“Those are really three things that are pretty simple to not do,” he said. “Slow down, focus on the road and give those guys space out there when you get around those work zones.”
Allende notes that it’s not just the workers at risk, exposed on the road. Actually, drivers and passengers are commonly the ones who are hurt.
“About 96 percent of people who are hurt in work zone collisions are people who are in the passenger vehicle, not necessarily our workers who have those giant vehicles to protect them,” he said. “So it’s in everybody’s best interest to just slow down around those places”
But we all know the cases where drivers blow through construction zones and hurt or kill workers. It’s generally because they aren’t paying attention to the road. And Allende has seen it. He has been out with the state work crews on construction jobs, and he’s amazed by what he sees from drivers.
“You look into the cars and you see people staring down at their phones, or eating, or are putting on makeup, or whatever they’re doing other than driving and it can be a pretty scary situation,” Allende said. “I talk to our workers all the time and they say every single day they go out there they have a near miss.”
One example, it was just a few months ago when a distracted driver plowed into a truck protecting a work zone.
“We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had a WSDOT worker killed in a couple years in a work zone, although we’ve had injuries. But it just takes one time for that whole thing to change and we don’t want anybody to get hurt,” Allende said.
“There can’t possibly be a Facebook post that is that important that you need to put your life and other people’s lives in danger,” Allende said. “I’m sure that text can wait until you pull over somewhere.”
So slow down. Zipper merge and pay attention. And just a note: the state reports that more than 40 percent of work zone accidents are caused by drivers under the age of 30.