Big Trucks and Work Zones: A Dangerous Mix

April 23, 2013

State transportation departments throughout the country are gearing up for warm weather months when highway construction projects ramp up and more motorists hit the highways and are issuing announcements in conjunction with National Work Zone Awareness Week (April 15-21) to get the word out to drivers of the dangers of negotiating work zones.

The annual event is organized by the Federal Highway Administration, American Traffic Safety Service Association, and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. also sponsor the event which draws attention to the work zone dangers faced daily by construction crews and drivers alike.

And probably the only traffic situations where truck drivers are decidedly more dangerous than other motorists on the highway are construction work zones.

"It has been widely agreed that heavy trucks contribute significantly to work zone fatalities," says a 2006 research project, "Determining the Causes of Highway Work Zone Accidents in Kansas," by the Kansas Department of Transportation's (KDOT) Kansas Transportation Research and New-Developments (K-TRAN) Research Project.

Truck drivers, according to the analysis results, were exposed to high risks when they traveled through work zones: 40% of the total crashes involved heavy trucks and most of the truck-involved crashes involved multiple vehicles. In contrast, only 16% of all fatal crashes in Kansas involved heavy trucks in the 13 years from 1992 through 2004.

"The striking difference in percentage (24%) demonstrates that highway work zones were high-risk locations particularly for truck drivers," researchers said. "Heavy trucks have bigger bodies and less flexibility which require higher level immediate work zone safety countermeasures and configurations in consideration of heavy trucks."

Additionally, truck-involved crashes frequently caused collisions of multiple vehicles, a "phenomenon strongly suggests that when heavy trucks were involved, the crashes tended to be more severe."

When studying the relationship between driver errors and vehicle types, it was found that inattentive driving and misjudgment/disregarded traffic controls were the two most frequent driver errors for both truck- and non-truck-involved fatal work zone crashes. (Speeding and drug/alcohol impairment were not significant contributing factors of truck-involved crashes, the study found.)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration concurs: "Trucks have more accidents in highway work zones than other vehicles."

It's important to be alert and prepared to slow down or stop in a work zone and FMCSA offers the following tips for truckers negotiating highway work zones:

  • Merge Gently Aggressive drivers can be extremely dangerous while driving in work zones. Work zones require time and courtesy. For a smooth passage through work zones, allow others to merge in front of you.

  • Stay Alert- Highway Work Zones Are Unsafe Work zones are busy places where construction vehicles and workers are always moving. Stay alert and stay on the safe path that is designated throughout the work zone.

The the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration (SHA) and Motor Vehicles Administration (MVA) and the Maryland State Police (MSP) recently issued a joint press release urging motorists to heed the following safety rules, especially in work zones:

  • Remember the rules of the road B-SAFE! Buckle Up. Slow down. Always drive sober. Focus. Everyone shares the road, and everyone get home.

  • No texting while driving.

  • Be sure to use a hands-free device when using a mobile phone.

  • Watch for orange and lime neon colors worn by highway workers. Now that spring is here, many highway, public works and utility crews are working in and along roads and intersections. Remain alert for trucks and other equipment, and especially those entering and exiting driveways.

  • Perform vehicle safety checks. Check the tire pressure and ensure that the proper fluids of the engine are maintained.

  • Plan ahead Sign up for MD511 to learn about travel delays and construction activity along State routes.

That last tip refers to "511 Know before you go!" a service whereby drivers can call 511 or log onto for live traffic updates, including roadway construction delays and lane closures.

Most state highway departments offer similar services, so it's a good idea especially during spring and summer months to avail yourself of highway construction alert services in the states you travel wherever possible.

Avoiding work zones altogether by using alternate routes is always the safest bet. If you can't avoid work zones, allow for more time to travel, stay hyper-vigilant and slow down.,d.cGE

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