DOT asks drivers to keep their work space safePosted: April 23, 2009
By: Whitney Skeeters
A diamond-shaped sign of a most striking orange hue sits on College Avenue, clearly warning drivers, “Road Work Ahead.”
Large cement barriers line one side of the street and men with bright vests direct traffic so large construction equipment can be transported into and out of the area. A layer of sand and dust coat everything: the road, the piles of materials on the site, and the hard hats of each of the construction workers. The workers have been manning the site for months now building the new Hotel Indigo.
Scenes such as this, where that tell-tale shade of orange alerts drivers with cones, barrels, or flags, usually elicit a groan from busy travelers. Decreased speed zones coupled with increased fines means a headache for those who don’t exercise caution. This is precisely the reason Rick Parham of the Georgia Department of Transportation sometimes finds it difficult to garnish a following for Work Zone Awareness Week. April 6 – 10 was the 10th annual week set aside nationally in honor of work zone safety, and Parham wanted to ensure Georgia recognized the significance.
Parham said he usually leads with the fact that most fatalities and injuries occur to drivers and pedestrians, not roadside workers. The US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration computes fatality statistics every couple of years and posts the research documents on their Web site, www.fhwa.dot.gov. According to its most recent data from 2004, over four out of every five work zone fatalities were motorists. There is a work zone injury every 9 minutes and a work zone fatality every 8.2 hours.
Road safety in general is a far-reaching and serious matter deserving of national attention. The nation’s roads can be a scary and dangerous place – in 2007, 41,059 people died while driving or walking on them.
Parham said a lack of respect for road safety is not fair to the workers who have to daily survive on them. The state began collecting records on worker fatalities in 1973, and since there have been 56 government workers killed on Georgia’s roads.
Parham works with the communications department in the state’s DOT to spread the word in a memorable way. This year the slogan is: ‘Drive to survive: our future depends on it.’
“We try to make it catchy,” Parham said. “One year we had literature that said, ‘Slow down, it won’t kill you.’ We try to explain to people that they’re killing us out there, so to speak.”
Several years ago Parham remembers convincing a popular commissioner in Atlanta to move his office to the side of the road for a day. The politician posed for a photograph for a local news organization while traffic raced along a couple of feet behind him. The DOT explained the side of the road is quite literally an office for many individuals.
“Please don’t put us and yourselves in danger by speeding through our office,” Parham remembers saying.
This year as part of the education initiative during Work Zone Week Parham sent out news releases to media outlets and visited with several schools encouraging kids to carry the message home to their families. The DOT will also often set up booths at public places such as malls and neighborhood festivals. Their mascot, Cone Man, has made appearances in several parades.
In Athens, Kevin Gentry of the Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works along with other county personnel tied orange ribbons to the antennas of A-CC and personal vehicles to remind citizens to exercise caution in work zones.
Parham said the most dangerous situations occur when workers must work right next to or on busy roads, such as the construction at Indigo. Although the College Avenue site has barriers in place to protect workers, they are not feasible in all working situations. Another work zone he has found leads to more accidents is when lanes must shift to the left or right to accommodate some sort of maintenance or construction. The sharper curves cause some drivers to overcompensate and veer into another lane. He also chastises drivers who slow down to look at what is going on because it often causes drivers behind them to slam on the breaks or hit the car in front of them.
Parham said groups such as the American Association of State Highway Transportation (AASHTO) work consistently to educate the public of these issues. They are constantly composing press releases, brochures, posters and other literature with updates on driving laws in the nation and advice for drivers such as being extra careful in work zones at night.
To find information on local road work and construction zones, please visit http://www.athensclarkecounty.com/publicworks. Georgia travel information can be found by dialing 511 or at http://www.511ga.org. To learn more about work zone safety issues, please find the AASHTO’s Web site at http://www.transportation.org.
SIDEBAR: Here are a few tips for staying safe while traveling in work zones, as posted on the Athens-Clarke County’s Web site:
1. Drive slowly and be on alert. Minimize distractions.
2. Don’t follow too closely behind the driver in front of you.
3. Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the construction workers and equipment.
4. Keep up with the traffic flow so you keep it moving and do not make traffic worse.
5. Be patient.