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Construction Zone

Did You Know?

There are currently no nationally recognized definitions of work zones or work-zone accidents.

A work zone is an area of a traffic way with highway construction, maintenance, or utility-work activities. Signs, channeling devices, barriers, pavement markings, and/or work vehicles typically mark a work zone. It extends from the first warning sign, or flashing lights on a vehicle, to the "End of Road Work" sign or the last traffic control device. Fines are usually doubled in posted work zones.

Every state has its own unique definitions of these items. This makes it impossible to determine the nationwide impact of road construction on the safety of the traveling public. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is currently involved in an effort to develop a standardized definition of a work zone. Ultimately, this effort will allow researchers the opportunity to assess the current state of work-zone safety and to recommend possible countermeasures to eliminate or mitigate safety problems.

Accidents in work zones can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Inattentive drivers
  • Drivers who are unsure of work zone traffic control directions
  • Those who drive aggressively to minimize delay
  • Work zone areas that are unclearly marked
  • Failure to provide proper personnel to control traffic
  • Improper placement of barricades, signs, and other traffic control devices

Work-Zone Accident

A work-zone accident is a traffic accident in which the first harmful event occurs within the boundaries of a work zone or on an approach to or exit from a work zone, resulting from an activity, behavior, or control related to the movement of the traffic units through the work zone.

Construction Zone Background

Current methods for obtaining construction zone accident data are totally inadequate. Lack of reasonably accurate accident information obtained from police and public agencies responsible for work zone safety is evidence that, for the most part, these agencies are not doing their mandated job. For years, the estimated number of worker deaths per year in a work zone in traffic accidents was 500. The Transportation Research Board's SHRP research program used that figure to establish a research program priority.

Work-zone fatalities rose to an all-time high of 833 deaths in 1994. While the number of fatalities in work zones has declined each year since then, the 771 fatalities in 1995 and 719 fatalities in 1996 are still a major concern and point out the need for continuous emphasis on work-zone safety. Approximately 55 percent of work-zone fatalities occur in rural areas, and 25 percent of the 719 work-zone fatalities in 1996 involved large trucks. In addition to these fatalities, approximately 37,000 injuries resulted from motor-vehicle crashes in work zones in 1996.

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