Why is Distracted Driving in Work Zones Dangerous?
December 23, 2020
According to recent statistics, distracted driving accidents cause approximately 3,500 fatalities and over 365,000 injuries in this country each year. Talking or texting on the phone, reaching for something in the backseat, and interacting with other passengers in the car are common causes of distracted driving accidents. While these accidents are dangerous, and potentially fatal under any circumstances, they are particularly hazardous in construction work zones. Most major roadwork is done in the spring and summer; however, there are highway construction projects that are completed throughout the year. Motorists are urged to use extreme caution and avoid any distractions when approaching and driving through a work zone.
When a driver’s attention is off the road for a mere five seconds, and a vehicle is traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, this is equivalent to driving the length of a football field blindfolded! Clearly, this can have devastating consequences when there are other vehicles nearby. Moreover, distracted driving in a work zone is particularly dangerous. In fact, according to research from the University of Missouri-Columbia, distracted drivers are close to 30 times more likely to cause a car accident, or a near collision in a work zone. Results from the study include recommendations that can help decrease the number of accidents that occur in work zones, including public education programs, enforcing laws that ban texting and driving, and effective policies that deter driver distractions.
Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia is unique because it uses naturalistic driving study data to provide valuable information about how various factors contribute to a crash, including the driver, the vehicle, and roadway and environmental factors. This allows researchers to reconstruct the driver’s actions and the surrounding environment prior to the crash.
What are the Highlights of the Study?
Using data from the Transportation Research Board’s second “Strategic Highway Research Program’s Naturalistic Driving Study,” researchers collected data from over 3,000 drivers traveling more that 50 million miles between 2006 and 2015. Of the seven Federal Highway Administration-funded projects that are using this data, this is the only research project that focuses specifically on the impact that distracted driving has on work zones. According to a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the MU College of Engineering, researchers already knew that the narrow lanes and speeding in work zones were associated with an increase in severe injuries. However, this new data allows researchers to understand the responsibility of the driver to increase work zone safety. The results indicate that drivers who are distracted with phone calls, text messages, or other passengers are much more likely to cause a collision in a work zone.
Other research looked at drivers’ attitudes and behavior when driving through work zones in Puerto Rico, where the use of smartphones while driving is prohibited. Researchers conducted a survey that focused on two key aspects, including how drivers perceive the impact of distractions on driving, and the degree to which drivers understand the signage and pavement markings in work zones. The results found that close to 50 percent of motorists engage in distracted behavior, despite the fact that they realize it is risky. The results also indicate that motorists are more likely to comply with work zone speed limits when workers or heavy equipment are in the area.
How can I Prevent an Accident in a Work Zone?
In addition to avoiding common distractions like talking, texting, changing the radio station, and reaching for something in the backseat, there are a wide range of additional safety tips that all drivers are encouraged to follow when driving in work zones, including the following:
- Be prepared for unexpected traffic changes. From lane closures and speed limit changes to people working on or very close to the road, motorists must prepare for the unexpected.
- Wear a seat belt. This is one of the most effective ways to prevent injuries and fatalities in the event of a car accident, including those that occur in work zones.
- Reduce speed. Work zones usually have reduced speed limits, yet speeding is one of the top causes of work zone accidents.
- Turn headlights on. This helps oncoming vehicles and construction zone workers see vehicles better, particularly as it starts to get dark, or during inclement weather.
- Avoid tailgating. Motorists should avoid tailgating regardless of where they are driving, including work zones. Rear end collisions are the most common type of car accident in work zones, which are often caused by tailgating.
- Pay attention to road signs. There are signs that alert motorists that there is roadwork ahead. Drivers must pay attention to these signs and adjust their driving accordingly.
- Obey road crew flaggers. A flagger directs traffic through work zones. Motorists must obey flaggers the same way they obey regulatory signs. Failing to do so can result in a traffic citation.
- Stay with the flow of traffic. That means obeying the reduced speed limits, merging smoothly and safely, and allowing other vehicles to merge as well.
- Check traffic reports before travel. If there are reports of road work, expect delays. Plan to leave early and allow for extra travel time. This can help drivers avoid getting frustrated with the delays, resulting in speeding, cutting off other drivers, and other unsafe driving behaviors.
- Be patient. Work zones are there to improve road conditions and ultimately make the roads safer for travelers. Motorists should not let a minor inconvenience cause them to become impatient, frustrated, or angry.
What are the Penalties for Work Zone Accidents?
Too often, motorists speed through work zones, or fail to obey other posted signage, simply because they are unaware of the risks, and are unfamiliar with Pennsylvania’s Work Zone Safety (WZS) Law. Breaking this law can result in steep fines, points on driver’s licenses, and possible jail time. The WZS includes the following requirements:
- Motorists must keep their headlights on when driving in a work zone, even if it is not an active work zone.
- Drivers must obey the speed limit in work zones. Speeding in an active work zone where men and women are working will involve stiffer penalties compared to non-active work zones.
Drivers who commit violations in active work zones will be subject to the following penalties:
- Exceeding the speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit may result in a 15-day license suspension.
- If a motorist is involved in a car accident, and he or she had been driving at an unsafe speed, he or she may face a 15-day license suspension.
- Fines for speeding, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, distracted driving, aggressive driving, and other traffic violations are doubled if an accident occurs in an active work zone.
- If a drunk driving accident occurs in an active work zone, and the accident caused a fatality, the driver may face up to five years in prison.
- Effective September 6, 2012, motorists face steep fines when they ignore road closure signs and other signs that are meant to alert drivers about potentially dangerous road conditions. If caught, drivers face fines up to $250, and will incur two points on the driver’s license. If the accident requires police or first responders to rush to the scene, the fine can be as high as $500, and the at-fault driver will be responsible for the cost of staging the emergency response.
What Should I Do if I am Involved in a Work Zone Accident?
The steps motorists should take after a car accident in a work zone are the same steps that are recommended after any type of car accident. They include the following:
- If possible, move the vehicle to a safe spot.
- Call 911 so dispatch can send police and an ambulance if there are injuries.
- Take pictures of the accident scene, including damage to vehicles, skid marks, debris on the road, injuries, and any other evidence that may help prove fault.
- Exchange insurance information with the other driver.
- Call the insurance company to report the accident and initiate the claims process.
- Seek medical attention if there were injuries involved.
- If there were witnesses at the scene, ask if they would be willing to provide a statement and ask for their contact information.
- Contact an experienced car accident lawyer.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Represent Victims of Car Accidents in Work Zones
If you were seriously injured in a car accident in a work zone due to another’s negligence, it is in your best interest to contact the Philadelphia car accident lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP as soon as possible. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of your case and determine who is responsible for causing the accident. Our dedicated legal team will protect your rights and assist you with the claims process. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. With offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.