Editorial: Construction season poses extra road hazards
Highway officials and police agencies have stressed for years the importance of motorists slowing down and applying extra caution as they approach and travel in roadway construction zones.
The basic message has been that motorists are putting the lives of construction workers at risk by not being fully alert to work-zone conditions and failing to comply with speed limits. That's all quite true -- and ample reason for being extra cautious.
But this week, in public pronouncements calling for motorists to heed work-zone laws, officials also emphasized that motorists will be looking out for their own interests if they take it easy through those construction areas.
One consequence of being careful is that motorists can avoid the likelihood of being cited for a driving offense. State police noted that the West Virginia Division of Highways has received federal money to increase patrols in work zones during the construction season, and officers plan to be aggressive in enforcing the law. "I think in the past motorists have become complacent," State Police 1st Sgt. Michael Baylous said. "They think, 'Well that trooper is not going to pull out and come after me.' They better watch out now. With this overtime money that we have, we're going to be putting some extra patrols at some of these work zones."
As most people know, fines for traffic offenses are doubled in work zones.
However, there is even more than hefty traffic fines at stake. The lives motorists potentially save by careful driving could be their own. That's because an estimated 80 percent of the state's work zone fatalities are motorists rather than people who are working on the road projects, according to Donna Hardy, Division of Highways mobility and safety engineer. National figures also bear that out. The Federal Highway Administration reports fatalities from crashes in construction and maintenance zones totaled 667 nationwide in 2009, and 551 of those were deaths of motorists instead of workers.
In other words, reckless driving through these areas is just as dangerous to motorists as the workers.
The obvious lesson is this: Pay attention to the roadway and signs alerting of approaching work zones, slow down to the posted speed limits, and avoid distractions, including the use of cellphones and other electronic devices. We all should practice extra caution in work zones, because everyone's well-being -- not just the construction workers -- is at stake.