Despite the sharp drop in traffic volume, work zone activity does not relent. And it remains as dangerous as ever. Distracted or impaired drivers are still on the road. In our role as highway workers, the risk is clear and unmistakable.
We have tried to educate and inform our staff about these risks. Most of us have a distinct appreciation for the hazard. It starts with basic Defensive Driving and Defensive Positioning. When we are outside the vehicle in a highway setting, the risk is amplified exponentially. We know that a protective distance and position is our best defense when boots are on the ground.
Achieving this protection is easy to say, hard to practice. Each year there are triple digit fatalities in and around work zones of all types. They are uniformly preventable by workers and motorists.
Our society is basically suffering from two illnesses. The Covid Pandemic is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room right now. But it will recede eventually. The other illness is more insidious – poor driving skills by motorists, focused on all kinds of things, except Defensive Driving.
This illness is going to be a lot harder to control. In the rather sterile parlance of the US DOT, the class of “Unprotected Highway Users” includes pedestrian, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and US. Highway work zone ‘boots on the ground.’ The statistics for this class of ‘highway users’ are heading north at an eye-popping rate.
Symptoms of this illness include: oversized vehicles, cheap gas, distractions, generous speed limits, and poor driving skills. The result is pretty hair-raising for a pedestrian. Most of whom are not exactly blameless in this picture: wearing dark clothing, looking at their cell phone, bikes encroaching into travel lanes, etc. The end result is not good.
In summary, we know what the cure for this illness is. Defensive driving, high-visibility apparel, defensive positioning, focused attention on the driving equation, and a few other situational survival skills. Boring as they are, that’s the medicine. We can beat the Covid. That’s already in the works. The other illness is going to a lot harder to treat.
This week we remember the Highway Workers who sacrificed their lives in the interest of keeping roads safe. Their memory should inspire us to practice safety skills in all walks of life.