The Turning Point: Roadway Work Zone Safety for New Drivers campaign encourages all motorists, and especially new teen drivers, to heed five key messages about driving in roadway work zones:
- Know the work zone signs.
- Pay attention to other drivers.
- Stay focused. Avoid distractions.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Keep your cool. Be patient.
Know the work zone signs. Think of “signs” in two ways. They are the metal plaques that inform and warn you, of course. But they also are the devices and other indicators that tell you about the work under way, mark the path you should follow, and help you navigate the work zone.
The “actual signs” are set up along the roadway both before and within the work zone to prepare you for it and guide you safely through it.
They first alert you that a work zone is ahead and tell you how far away it is (ROAD WORK 1000 FT…500 FT, etc.). They may advise you of work zone length (ROAD CONSTRUCTION NEXT 5 MILES). They may tell you to “merge” (by changing lanes) or “shift” (without leaving your lane), or that work is taking place on the shoulder or on the roadside. They advise you of the work zone speed limit. They warn you of pavement conditions that may require you to adjust your driving: for example, LOOSE GRAVEL, BUMP, UNEVEN LANES, ROAD NARROWS, and SOFT SHOULDER. Other signs, with words or symbols, alert you to TRUCK CROSSING, FLAGGER AHEAD, SURVEY CREW, or EXIT CLOSED. All this information isn’t just “nice to know.” It’s meant to guide you and put you on guard to protect yourself in the work zone—so that you watch out for, slow down, stop or take other action to steer clear of danger.
The “other signs” include temporary traffic control devices like cones, barrels, concrete barriers, message signs and arrow panels. Besides being sure indicators of work zones, they provide you with positive guidance. Some of them also separate you from the work areas—and the workers, machinery and materials in them. Still other “signs” include such things as…dump trucks. They may enter or leave the work area from the roadway; so be prepared to slow down for them. Evidence of work already done on the road surface, shoulders or right-of-way—more such work may be under way up ahead; so keep an eye out for workers and equipment. Traffic backups—may indicate a work zone ahead even before you see a “real” sign.
Learn to ask a few basic questions as you approach every work zone—and then use the signs to get answers. What sort of work is going on? How much will I be delayed? Should I detour around it? What action do I need to take, if any (change lanes, reduce speed, look for a flagger, watch out for workers or equipment)? And stay alert for more signs right on through the work zone. Remember, the signs will be there, but you have to notice them and heed their messages.
Pay attention to other drivers. It’s never a good idea to ignore other drivers no matter where you’re driving, but in work zones you need to be especially mindful of them. Roadway work zones are less forgiving than normal stretches of highways and streets. They often have narrower lanes and no shoulders to escape to in case you want to take evasive action. Slowing down in work zones often backs up traffic and reduces the spacing between vehicles.
Work zone lane closures and shifts bring out the worst behavior in some drivers. They get angry and anxious, and resort to speeding, weaving and cutting off other motorists. Remember, you’re not alone out there! As good a driver as you are, you have to be concerned about other drivers too. Your best defense is to hold your course, drive at the appropriate speed, and maintain enough space between your vehicle and others.
Stay focused. Avoid distractions. Losing focus on your driving is bad in any situation, but it can prove deadly in roadway work zones. Observing what the signs tell you, controlling your speed, steering carefully, and keeping an eye on other drivers—all demand your full attention. Entering work zones should heighten your awareness and focus your thoughts and vision on the road. Don’t let distractions compete for your undivided concentration on driving through work zones.
As you approach a work zone, put down your cell phone, beverage, or sandwich. Yes, we mean interrupt your phone conversation and tell the other person you’ll call back later…and set aside whatever you’re munching or sipping. They will still be there when you emerge from the work zone in a few minutes. Put a hold on fiddling with the radio/tape player/CD player. Apply makeup? Read a map? Reach for something in the glove box? …Don’t you dare! You should even break off any engrossing chat with your passenger. This is the time for both hands on the wheel and both your mind and eyes on the road ahead (with glances in your mirrors as needed).
Expect the unexpected. When you drive in work zones, it’s always best to prepare yourself for something unexpected… Menacing actions by other motorists. Construction vehicles that slow down to leave the roadway and pull into the work area. Dump trucks that emerge from the work area and enter your lane up ahead. Workers operating scant inches from your path; uneven pavement lanes. Loose gravel on the road surface …to name just a few. When you anticipate problems, you are better able to react to them appropriately.
Keep your cool. Be patient. Maintain calm. Don’t get rattled by work zone situations. If you heed the signs, keep an eye on other drivers, maintain your focus on the road, and prepare yourself for unexpected developments, you should be in good shape. Always make sure your speed is appropriate to the situation—maybe much slower than the posted limit. And finally, don’t lose your patience or your temper. If you keep your cool, you and everyone else will make it through the work zone and arrive safely at your destinations.