Keeping Law Enforcement Safe in Work Zones
In the morning hours of July 26, 2000, a tractor-trailer truck traveling at an estimated 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour through a work zone slammed into a Tennessee Highway Patrol car that was trailing construction vehicles. Witnesses reported that the patrol car exploded and caught fire upon impact. The trooper was killed and another motorist was seriously injured in the crash. According to a report compiled by the National Trans-por-tation Safety Board, the incident revealed a number of safety issues, including a lack of communication between the transportation agency and the highway patrol and a need to train officers in safe traffic control procedures in work zones.
Following this incident, the National Highway Institute (NHI) developed course 133119 Safe and Effective Use of Law Enforcement Personnel in Work Zones. The goal is to provide basic knowledge that can help to improve safety in work zones, minimize crashes, and help save lives.
Of the Nation’s 32,367 traffic fatalities in 2011, 587 occurred in work zones, indicating an enduring need to improve traffic control strategies in highway construction zones.
From In-Person to Online
The course originally was developed as an instructor-led training to share the latest safety and traffic control techniques with law enforcement officers, contractors, and anyone else operating in highway work zones. Once launched, the course became so popular that instructors were traveling to the same destinations on multiple occasions every year to train 25–30 participants at a time.
To better meet the demand and to accommodate participants’ schedules, NHI and the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Resource Center collaborated to transform the content into a Web-based training, available at no cost.
“NHI and the Resource Center responded to the needs of the work zone community,” says Daniel Grate, a course developer at FHWA. “This course was in such a high demand as an instructor-led training, we wanted to make sure it was available so everyone who wanted to take it, could.”
The 2-hour online course consists of three modules: Roles and Responsibilities, Understanding Work Zones, and Application Exercise. These three modules cover important concepts, work zone layouts, and scenarios requiring knowledge application.
“This course gives participants a solid foundation in the standards and guidelines related to temporary traffic control in work zones, the role of law enforcement personnel, the components of a typical work zone, and proper safety procedures and practices,” says Grate. “For example, officers should be visible and vigilant, recognizing safety issues pertaining to traffic control devices and their proper use and placement, and reporting concerns to the contractor.”
Participants learn background knowledge of traffic regulations and why work zones are set up the way they are, including strategies to accommodate merging and approaching traffic. The course also provides tips on how to recognize certain issues or elements within work zones that need to be corrected. For example, without proper training, a law enforcement officer might not understand the importance of maintaining restricted spaces, such as buffer zones separating and protecting workers from traffic, or notice out-of-place signs, or know to report them.
Traveler alertness is also an important means of preventing crashes in work zones. By educating law enforcement on proper procedures, highway patrols are better equipped and more likely to maintain a noticeable presence in work zones, thereby keeping travelers vigilant.
Although law enforcement officers are the primary audience, anyone administering or setting up a work zone can benefit from the methods taught in the course. Developers designed the training to reach audiences in varying roles and levels of authority. The course is self-paced and participants can start and stop whenever necessary, a design accommodation to help today’s busy professionals.
“This is one of NHI’s most popular courses,” Grate adds, “And it is gratifying to know that we are helping to make work zones safer for law enforcement, workers, and travelers.”
For course details and to register, visit NHI’s Web site at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.
Whitney Winn is a contractor for NHI.