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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - March/April 2000

National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week

(From left) American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Executive Director Roger A. Wentz, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) President Thomas R. Warne congratulate one another after signing an agreement designating April 3 through 7 as National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week.

To help reduce fatalities and injuries in highway construction areas, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle, American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Executive Director Roger A. Wentz, and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) President Thomas R. Warne signed an agreement on Dec. 15, 1999 designating April 3 through 7 as National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week.

In the past decade, more than 8,000 people lost their lives in work zone crashes. Fatalities in 1998 rose to 772, reversing a three-year decline in work zone fatalities. Approximately 37,000 people were injured in work zones in 1998.

"This agreement underscores our commitment to safety, which is President Clinton's highest transportation priority," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater said. "This new safety partnership will help save lives and prevent injuries in work zones."

The purpose of the special work zone safety week is to increase awareness of the need to be especially attentive and safety-conscious when operating in a work zone.

"Despite these alarming numbers [of fatalities and injuries], the motoring public generally doesn't realize the extent of this situation, nor do they recognize that their actions can dramatically reduce these figures," said Thomas W. Flaherty, ATSSA's Safety Committee chairman. "Work zone workers' environments include motor vehicles zipping by at speeds of 55 to 75 miles-per-hour, just inches from their work space. In fact, speeding traffic is the number one cause of injury and death in our nation's work zones. Simply slowing down and paying attention can and will save lives."

Safety Tips for Motorists

The partnering organizations are working together to establish a common set of safety tips to focus attention on driver behavior. The set of safety tips will be broadcasted during the National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Although the final list of tips was still being developed in January, the following list was published in the Fall 1999 issue of The Signal, ATSSA's quarterly magazine:

  • Drive within the posted speed limits.
  • Dedicate full attention to the roadway.
  • Disengage from distracting activities, such as changing radio stations and especially using mobile phones.
  • Pay close attention to merge signs, flaggers, and don't change lanes within the work zone.
  • Watch out -- not only for workers in the zone, but also their equipment.
  • Turn on the vehicle headlights to become more conspicuous to workers and other motorists.

"FHWA is committed to working with our safety partners to improve work zone safety and to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities on our nation's highways," Wykle said. "We have one of the safest highway systems in the world, but we must make it even safer for highway workers and motorists."This message is intended for the driving public and construction workers. It is also intended to generate dialog among highway program managers in the public and private sectors.

The partnering organizations will work together to:

  • Increase public awareness of the need for greater caution and care while driving through work zones to reduce fatalities and injuries.
  • Establish and promote a common set of "safety tips" for motorists.
  • Increase public sector, industry, and worker awareness of the value of training and best practices regarding work zone safety.
  • Establish a nationwide program for promoting work zone safety.
  • Ensure that workers and contractors understand the aberrant driving behaviors of motorists frustrated by work zone delay and suggest ways to alleviate the adverse effects.
  • Engage other interested parties as partners in work zone safety.

"Safety is a top concern to AASHTO's member departments, and far too many fatalities and injuries occur in work zones each year," Warne said. "AASHTO is dedicated to this effort to inform the public of the problem and to educate drivers on how to get through work zones in order to ensure their safety and that of the highway workers."

"Roadway work zones are a way of life in every community across America. Motorists need to be aware of them and the workers within them," Wentz said. "If drivers would simply slow to posted speed limits in work zones, disengage from distracting activities such as cellular telephone usage, and be aware of the workers, countless lives would be saved."

Framework for Action

In the Memorandum of Agreement designating April 3 through 7 as National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, the signing partners explained the mission and the goals and objectives, and they committed themselves to the following "framework for action":

ATSSA will serve as the coordinator of national activities. The association's responsibilities will include identification, development, and coordination of materials to be used by ATSSA members in promoting work zone safety to the general public and to its members. The association will also develop and implement a national media campaign, as appropriate.

AASHTO will promote the event to its member departments and will develop, copy, and distribute material to them in cooperation with ATSSA and FHWA.

FHWA will support the promotion of National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week to the media, public, and contractors, with direct participation by its division offices and resource centers in state and local activities, as appropriate.

ATSSA, AASHTO and FHWA shall each appoint one primary staff contact for this program. The three primary contacts shall serve as coordinators for cooperative and joint activities. The coordinators shall also identify other organizations thought to have an interest in this activity and seek their support of National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week.

This agreement shall remain in effect until termination is mutually agreed to by the participating parties.