Jim Adler | The Tough, Smart Lawyer
By Jim Adler June 12, 2015

You probably thought most people who die in work zone crashes are construction workers. If so, you thought wrong. Nearly 90% of victims are drivers like you — people in cars, pickups and SUVs who crash when road construction slows or diverts traffic.

While you can’t make others drive safely, you can drive safely yourself to boost your chances to avoid work zone crashes.

First, it helps to be aware of work zones in advance. The Texas Department of Transportation can keep you posted via a work zone area map. Updated daily, it shows where road work is happening across Texas’ 80,000 miles of roads maintained by TxDOT.

You can zoom in closely to note exact road work spots in your area, then click for details on how such road work can affect your trip, learning which lanes are closed, the affected direction and how long the project should last.

Too, always be alert to highway signs posted ahead of a work zone and warning of construction ahead. Lanes may narrow from three to two — and you may be in the closing lane. So be alert.

Then, when you reach a work zone, heed all barriers and orange cones set up to steer traffic in the right direction — and away from road construction. Also watch for orange triangles, which tend to be the universal sign for a roadwork warning.

Work Zone Deaths Are Getting Worse

Sadly, such warnings haven’t been enough to save 146 Texans who lost their lives in work zone crashes in 2014. Those numbers mean work zone deaths are getting worse. The 146 fatalities were nearly 30% more than the 104 deaths in work zones in 2013, and 87% of them were drivers, not construction crew workers.

The number of work zone crashes also rose in Texas by 12% in 2014, to a total of 19,393.

According to TxDOT, those crashes are largely due to drivers failing to:

  • Slow down
  • Stay alert
  • Obey flaggers
  • Avoid tailgating

John Barton, Deputy Executive Director of TxDOT, notes TxDOT observed National Work Zone Awareness Week in March of 2015 to urge greater work zone awareness and safety. But such urging is also year-round, because dangers are year-round.

Why do work zone crashes happen?

You may be wondering why do work zone crashes happen.

Part of the increase last year was due to an increase in traffic on Texas roadways. Around 400,000 new residents move to Texas yearly, so roadways become even more congested year by year.

But the rise in work zone accidents also can be attributed to an increase in work zones themselves. To meet Texas’ roadway needs, over 2,500 TxDOT work zones are active at some point during the year.

Beyond that, many drivers go too fast to control their speed and don’t pay close enough attention — the two top elements in work zone crashes.

You Could Get a Work Zone Ticket

Even if you don’t crash, you could get a work zone ticket, with fines starting at around $400.

By Texas law, drivers are required to move over or slow down while approaching work crews, tow trucks or emergency vehicles. Drivers who fail to do this not only may cause work zone crashes, but also can receive double the traffic fine they’d have gotten outside of a work zone.

In fact, a single work zone ticket could cost you $2,000, TxDOT says.

Yet despite such fines, many drivers tend to speed through clearly marked work zones at the same rate as when they are free from work zones.

How many? Troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety say less than 50% of drivers slow down when approaching the barriers and orange cones often placed around work zones. Combined with inattentiveness, that helps account for the rise in work zone crashes, where slower, more careful driving is mandated by changing conditions in the road.

Where Do Work Zone Crashes Happen?

You also may be wondering where do work zone crashes happen? The answer may surprise you.

Some of the worst counties for work zone crashes are not among Texas’ most populous counties. In fact, Central Texas’ neighboring McLennan County (Waco) and Bell County (Temple) are among the Top 10 counties for dangerous highway work zones.

Ranking ahead of them are Harris (Houston), Dallas (Dallas), Tarrant (Fort Worth) and Bexar (San Antonio), home to some of Texas’ largest cities.

But McLennan and Bell counties alone had nearly 1,400 work zone crashes and nine work zone accident deaths in 2014. McLennan County had 700 crashes and four deaths, while Bell County had 674 crashes and five deaths involving work zones.

Each county is bisected by the hugely busy Interstate 35, a north-south highway stretching south into Texas from Oklahoma City and extending through Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Austin and San Antonio. That long corridor is the most populous in the widespread state.

Not only that, but Texas road construction along I-35 seems to be continuous.

How To Avoid Work Zone Crashes

Besides slowing down and paying attention, do you know how to avoid work zone crashes?

First, don’t assume you’re safer because you’re driving in daylight hours. According to the Federal Highway Administration, around 70% of roadway work zone fatalities in recent years occurred between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Also, try to be wary of drivers behind you. The FHA reports that over 40% of fatal work zone crashes in a recent year were rear-end crashes, yet these comprise only 16% of all fatal crashes in general. Thus, a fatal rear-end crash is more than twice as likely to happen in a work zone, where vehicles may need to slow down quickly.

Finally, look out for construction equipment and machinery, as well as construction workers. Work zones aren’t all about orange traffic cones and signs. They’re about people and machines doing needed work in dangerous locations.

If someone in your family was injured or killed in a work zone accident which wasn’t their fault, notify our law firm immediately. We’ll provide you with a free legal review of your case, and then we can help steer you toward a possible successful settlement for your losses.

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