Numbers can be sobering. In case you didn’t know, last year was the deadliest year in over a decade in Ohio’s roadway work zones.
With 30 fatalities – nearly double the number in 2014 – the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is warning motorists of work zone dangers, and asking for their help in reversing the trend.
ODOT and its developers, the Portsmouth Gateway Group, have begun construction for the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, Ohio 823, in Scioto County. The project is Ohio’s first public-private partnership and the state’s largest, modern earthwork project to date creating multiple highway work zones.
Kathleen Fuller, Public Information Officer for District 9 of the Ohio Department of Transportation told the Daily Times on Tuesday people need to plan and know in advance where construction zones are.
“They (motorists) can learn about work zones prior to traveling,” Fuller said. “Whether it’s through us, we have the OGo site, obviously through the local media, and, of course there are GPS services that are available now. On my phone it shows you work zones. So you want to check ahead and know the route you are traveling, if there are any construction of maintenance activities going on that could affect your travel – be prepared.”
ODOT was chosen to be the host of the National Work Zone Awareness Week kickoff event. Remarks will be made by the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Administration, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Turnpike, Ohio Contractors Association and ODOT.
The kickoff event aims to prevent death and injury in roadway work zones. Special guests will include surviving families of three Ohioans who died while doing their jobs in roadway work zones.
“There are stipulations and guidelines depending on the project, so you may find, particularly on an interstate or a four-lane route, that, where you have it reduced to one lane you will find a reduced speed limit,” Fuller told the Times. “Then, of course there fines and penalties assessed, if there’s an accident or injury or worse, a death, that may be the result of driver inattention, driver error, which may be the result of speeding.”
Fuller said those laws will vary by work zone, but people need to be prepared when they drive in such zones.
“Obviously your four-lanes are set up with cones or barrier wall,” Fuller said. “Say you are restricted to one lane – you always want to reduce your speed, and even if you don’t see a sign, there could be a reduced- speed limit. They just want to be aware that, as you are seeing signs that say “Road Work Ahead – One Lane,” you should be prepared to slow down.”
If you are driving on a two-lane route, you will most likely approach a slow traffic area controlled by flaggers or a signal.
“There will be signs that are going to indicate a work zone ahead, and when you are approaching that, you definitely want to be slowing down, reducing your speed and being prepared to stop at all times,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the number one issue is distracted driving and April is Distracted Driving month. Last year 13,261 crashes in Ohio had a reported distraction, including 39 fatal crashes. From 2014 to 2015, the number of reported distracted drivers rose 11 percent.
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field when traveling at 55 mph.
“There is a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety,” Theresa Podguski, AAA East Central Legislative Affairs Director, said. “The vast majority of motorists believe they are more careful than others on the road, though most of them are not making safe decisions while behind the wheel. We’re asking every driver to make responsible decisions to make the roads safer for everyone.”
Fuller said it comes down to one thing.
“People are not paying attention to the signs. They’re not paying attention to the work zone, and all of a sudden, they’re sitting in one or worse yet, they’re driving into one at a higher rate of speed,” Fuller said. “It’s imperative that people pay attention to the signs because we work really hard, our contractors as well as our crews, to make sure that all of the advance warning signs are up and in their proper places.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.