Caltrans Work Zone Safety: What To Do…

By Staff Reports
  • Highway construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States.
  • On average 1,000 Caltrans vehicles are struck each year.
  • There have been 178 Caltrans workers killed on the job since 1924.
  • In May and June 2011, three Caltrans highway workers died on the job within 48 days.
  • In response to this unusually high number of fatalities, Caltrans called a statewide Safety Stand-Down to review all safety policies and seek ways to improve worker safety. This involved reviewing all safety procedures by workers involved in highway maintenance, and re-emphasizing all aspects of their safety commitment.
  • In July of this year, six motorists and contracted workers were killed – including three by drunk drivers – and multiple others injured in highway work zones.
  • The danger to highway workers from motorists is also the reason for the revision to California’s Move-Over Law. In 2009, the law requires drivers to give Caltrans vehicles displaying flashing lights the same space that drivers are required to give to emergency responders like CHP, police, fire, paramedics and tow truck operators.
    • Drivers are reminded to move to a lane not immediately adjacent to the official vehicle.
    • If unable to move to another lane, motorists are required to slow down.
  • In addition to the danger to workers, drivers and passengers are at risk from unsafe driving in highway work zones. An estimated 85% to 90% of people who are killed in highway work zones are drivers and passengers.
    • Most work zone fatalities are caused by rear-end collisions. Driver distraction, inattention and aggressive driving are most often the reasons.
  • They are often triggered when someone tries to cut in at the last minute where lanes are merged, or when a driver is distracted or driving too fast and not expecting traffic to slow down.
  • Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs are also a huge risk to highway workers. Two of the past four Caltrans workers and all 3 contractors in July were killed when struck by drivers allegedly under the influence.
  • Caltrans’ “Slow for the Cone Zone” public awareness campaign asks all motorists to remember these five easy tips for driving safely in highway work zones or anywhere there are orange cones, temporary barriers or signs alerting them to work being done in the area:
    • Reduce your speed significantly
    • Allow for extra following room
    • Expect sudden stops
    • Avoid distractions
    • Never drive impaired.
  • Fines are doubled in highway work zones because lives are on the line. Fines can easily total $1,000 or more for drivers who speed, drive aggressively, text or are otherwise distracted, or cause collisions in a highway work zone.
  • In 1999, before work zone safety became a high-profile national issue, Caltrans launched its “Slow for the Cone Zone” public awareness campaign.
  • The campaign has proven to be effective. California work zone fatalities have declined 63 percent from 1999 to 2010, compared to a drop of just 34 percent nationally.
  • The campaign is shown to change motorist behavior save the lives of drivers and passengers. As a result of fewer crashes, it also saves worker lives… and that is the most important thing.
  • Even with this overall drop in fatalities, more needs to be done, as evidenced by the recent highway work zone deaths. Caltrans is increasing their Slow for the Cone Zone messages out to the public and making sure the public is aware of the Move-Over Law, in addition to redoubling its safety focus internally.

Here are the activities that took place during the initial kick-off of the Move Over Campaign:

  • Caltrans partnered with the California Highway Patrol (CHP), California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to educate drivers about the state’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over, if safe to do so, or slow down when a Caltrans or emergency vehicle has flashing lights.
  • As part of the Move Over campaign, Caltrans created Move Over artwork that was posted on outdoor billboards, digital billboards, and the Department’s 700 electronic highway message signs throughout the state. Caltrans also debuted a public service announcement to increase awareness of the Move Over law.
  • Caltrans partnered with CHP so that during their morning traffic updates on broadcast stations statewide, CHP officers talked about the Move Over safety message and watched for motorists not following the law. During one initial three-hour stretch, CHP issued 10 tickets in one Sacramento highway work zone.
  • Caltrans also coordinated with DMV to stress the law’s importance by highlighting it in its handbook and written driver’s test, where it now appears along with Slow for the Cone Zone information. The Department also displayed the Move Over safety message on electronic signs in 135 of its field offices.
  • All departments put the Move Over message on their websites and social media pages, reaching global audiences on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The campaign resulted in hundreds of newspaper articles, and television and radio coverage. Millions of people got the message.
  • OTS followed up with a survey in 2011, which reported that 92 percent of the public are now aware of the law.

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