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WSDOT urging vigilance in work zones

Ricky, pictured here as part of the flagging crew along the Key Peninsula, was praised by drivers for smiling and waiving to each vehicle as they alternate through the work zone at Minter Creek in March 2020. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT/Flickr)

You’re going to see a lot of orange around this week. It is National Work Zone Awareness Week.

Every year, more than 800 people die nationally in work zone crashes. Of those 800 people, more than 90% are drivers, their passengers, or passing pedestrians.

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There were seven fatal work zone crashes in Washington state last year, plus another 21 serious injury crashes, 302 crashes with minor injuries, and 798 others with just property damage. That’s a lot of people not paying attention to the orange cones, lane reductions, flaggers, and other warnings. Pierce County had the highest reported crashes in the state, with just under 500 in 2020.

The top three reasons for these work zone crashes are following too closely, speed, and distracted driving.

“We’ve had times where the driver will be coming up, and they’ve just noticed at the last minute and they’ll swerve one way and go into the work zone and our folks are jumping over guardrails,” said Brandon Carter, the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Northwest region safety manager. “If you’re not paying attention, all it takes is that one time.”

Work zones are set up to give drivers plenty of warning, yet there is a work zone crash every 5.4 minutes across the country.

Carter described a recent crash.

“The person came up, stopped, and then tried navigating through our work zone,” he said. “As he was going, he barely clipped someone, but we run into these incidents on a daily basis. It’s scary.”

If you’ve never stood by the side of a freeway with traffic whizzing by, I can tell you it is unnerving, to say the least. Now imagine trying to do your construction or maintenance job under those conditions.

Carter wants everyone to come home alive, whether it’s the drivers, the passengers, or the workers. The only way to make that happen is for a good safety plan and vigilance from the drivers.

“Delays can be annoying, but you have to remember these are lives on the side of the road,” Carter said.  “Take your time. Let’s work together. Don’t get in a big hurry. And slow down.”

Don’t forget: A speeding ticket inside a work zone is double the penalty. That goes for any traffic infraction. Double the fine.

Carter and the rest of WSDOT are asking the public to wear something orange on Wednesday to remember the 60 workers killed in work zones in our state since 1950, and to recognize those workers on the job today.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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