Construction Zone Accidents, Fatalities on Rise; Drivers Oblivious Despite Big Fines: Few Motorists Heed Reduced Speed Zone in Highway Work Areas
Bright orange signs and electronic warnings. Menacing concrete barriers and barrels that pinch traffic into narrow lanes. Bulldozers, dump trucks and other heavy equipment, lurching in and out of traffic. The threat of doubled speeding fines. Billboards, lettered in a kid's scrawl, saying "My daddy [or mommy] works here." None of it slows us down. A recent spot check by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and KDKA-TV news revealed that more than half the vehicles passing through a construction zone on Interstate 79 in Washington County were speeding, and about one-fourth were doing 60 mph or more in the posted 50-mph zone. Trucks roared through the zone, slowing only at the sight of a uniformed state trooper aiming a radar gun. Police and traffic safety experts say it is part of a nationwide indifference to work zone speed limits -- a carelessness that often is deadly. Contrary to advertising campaigns that emphasize the safety of construction workers, most victims of work zone crashes are vehicle occupants -- 84 percent nationwide from 1994 to 1998. But the U.S. Department of Transportation also reports that fatality rates for highway workers are twice that of other types of construction. To no one's great surprise, recent studies concluded that doubling fines in work zones had no impact on motorists' habits or fatality rates. Other measures aimed at slowing traffic in work zones -- ranging from rumble strips to electronic speed displays -- also haven't worked. The only effective measure -- having police in marked cars stationed near construction areas -- is infrequently used because of personnel shortages and other law enforcement priorities.