Enforce Work-Zone Speed Limits

Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief | September 28, 2010

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It's summer, and you can assure your neighbors that all this road construction is a good thing. In fact, remind them of the complaining they did when the traffic wasn't moving quickly enough or the bumpy ride rattled their CD players. Along with the grouching, however, summer also brings news of construction-site accidents and fatalities. In most cases, these accidents happen when a vehicle rear-ends the one in front of it because it cannot stop in time. In other cases, vehicles strike machines or workers. The same barriers placed to protect the jobsite, ironically, create a false sense of safety for those traveling the roads.

Families rushing to vacation move rapidly through work zones at 10 or 20 miles over the posted construction speed limit. The locals on their way to work are doing the same.

Here in Illinois, the state police threaten video monitoring, citing lawbreakers with an immediate $350 fine if they are photographed even a couple of miles over the posted limit. We have yet to spot one of the video-touting vans, but the threat sure hasn't seemed to have had any effect.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has work-zone-safety advice for drivers, who represent 85 percent of the fatalities over the past five years. Interestingly, most fatalities, according to FHWA, are "working-age adults." That sounds more like commuters than vacationers.

Truth be told, we have all roared through a construction zone, whether on vacation or on our way to work. For those drivers who mind the limits, they feel the pressure of the bumper on their tails and the glares of the hurried drivers passing them.

Construction project managers can only do so much, though, and FHWA has some tips for them, too, which include involving law enforcement, using radar and hiring flaggers. In Portland, Ore., a flagger brings some flair to her job, smiling and waving at drivers, sometimes pointing the way with fingers and thumbs like toy pistols, or simply giving a thumbs-up. "They need to know there's a human being out there not surrounded by metal," she says in an article in "The Oregonian."

That is an entertaining idea. But the best move would be to enforce the existing work-zone speed limits. A few well-placed tickets might just save some lives.