Despite the brightly-colored road signs, reflective safety gear, and traffic control cones, work and construction zones remain dangerous places for workers and motorists. Hundreds of individuals are killed or injured when drivers and workers engage in negligent, careless behavior.
While available statistics show work zones to be hazardous, they need not be so. Drivers can make small but significant changes to their driving behaviors when they approach work zones to decrease the chances of a work zone accident.
By the Numbers: Work Zone Accidents and Fatalities
The National Safety Council, the Federal Highway Administration, and other organizations and entities examine the safety of highway construction zones. Available statistics from 2019 and 2020 reveal that not only do construction zones remain dangerous, but some of the risks have actually increased year over year.
Construction Zone Fatality Statistics
Relying on statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that a total of 857 people lost their lives in 774 work zone accidents in 2020. This was an increase from 2019, when 845 people lost their lives.
Most of those killed in construction zone accidents are drivers and passengers. In 2019, 690 people who fell into this category lost their lives. Another 141 people on foot or on bicycles were killed, as were 14 individuals using other means of conveyance. In 2020, 680 drivers and passengers, 170 pedestrians and bicyclists, and seven others were killed.
FHWA’s statistics also show that most construction zone accidents happen on interstates and arterial roads. In 2019, 295 of the 765 fatal crashes happened on interstates, and 390 happened on arterial roads. Only 80 fatal crashes occurred on local, collector, or other roads.
For 2020, the numbers were similar: 300 fatal construction zone accidents occurred on interstates and 372 on arterial roads, and only 102 happened on other types of roadways.
Causes of Work Zone Crashes
When the data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration is analyzed more closely, three frequently encountered circumstances are found to be present in a significant number of fatal work zone crashes:
Rear-end collisions can happen for a variety of reasons, including one driver following another too closely and one driver being distracted by a cell phone or other distractions. In 2019, 184 of the 765 fatal crashes reported involved a rear-end collision. This represented 24 percent of all fatal construction zone accidents.
These numbers improved slightly in 2020. In that year, 156 of the 774 crashes, or 20 percent, involved a rear-end collision.
Commercial Motor Vehicles
Large commercial trucks and buses represent a unique danger both in and out of the work zone. These large vehicles have a greater mass than private passenger cars, and thus, they are capable of causing greater damage and injuries in a crash than smaller vehicles.
Not only this, but their large size makes it more difficult to stop if needed. Drivers of commercial vehicles must therefore be alert and anticipate needing to slow down and stop, or else they may not have sufficient space to do so safely.
In 2019, 252 fatal construction zone accidents, or 33 percent of all fatal work zone crashes, involved at least one commercial vehicle. These numbers decreased slightly in 2020, which saw 208 fatal wrecks, or 27 percent of all work zone fatality crashes, involving a commercial vehicle.
When you speed, you reduce the time available to you to see a hazard like slow or stopped traffic or machinery in the roadway. You also reduce the space and time you have to merge into another lane if needed.
Thirty-two percent of fatal construction zone crashes in 2019, or a total of 242 out of 765, involved speeding. This jumped in 2020, wherein 287 of 774 work zone fatality accidents, or 37 percent, involved speeding.
Work Zone Injuries
The National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse reported in 2020 that there were approximately 44,000 individuals who were injured while in a roadway work zone. This number includes drivers, passengers, and workers and accounts for approximately 40 percent of the 102,000 construction zone accidents that happened during 2020.
Tips to Stay Safe While in Work Zones
Whenever you can, try to avoid construction zones, especially those on highways and arterial roads. If you cannot avoid them entirely, the following tips can help reduce the chances that you will be involved in a crash in a work zone:
- Reduce your speed when approaching a work zone
- Give yourself plenty of room to merge into other lanes if needed
- Put away your cell phone and other distractions
- Allow for extra room between yourself and the traffic in front of you
By exercising a little extra caution, you can do your part to make work zones safer for work crews, other motorists, and yourself.
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