Over the last decade, the Huntsville area has seen tremendous development. The surrounding area is rapidly growing. In downtown Huntsville, multiple hotels and offices are under construction. In the medical district, Huntsville Hospital and other medical offices continue expanding. Along Highway 72, you see stores and offices stretching from Huntsville to Athens. Throughout Madison, Limestone and Morgan Counties, new neighborhoods are under development. With new development, comes new road construction. And, authorities must maintain existing roads as well. If you live around Huntsville, it’s likely you regularly deal with road construction somewhere on your daily route!
Road Construction Workers Are At Risk For Serious Injury Or Death
According to the U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration, many workers and drivers are killed annually in work zone accidents. The statistics are startling. In 2016, 143 workers and 652 car passengers were killed in construction zone accidents. In 2017, the numbers were similar. According to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), data just for 2015 shows 31 deaths and 492 injuries in Alabama work zones. Honestly, I believe these numbers are low. Many serious personal injuries are not fully reported. When accident victims are not treated by paramedics at the scene, officers often report no crash injuries. Yet, many accident victims are hurt and later seek medical care. Many of our car accident clients feel fine in the moments after a crash due to the adrenaline rush. A few hours later (or maybe after a restless night), they begin hurting severely and realize they have a serious injury. Because of this, many accidents are reported as having no injuries.
How many road construction workers suffer serious injuries every year? How many drivers suffer injuries in work zones every year? I believe the numbers are higher than reported.
At our office, we’ve represented many clients in work zone injury cases. Last year, we completed a case involving a young worker who suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) when struck from behind by a speeding driver. Our client’s crew was repairing a road in Madison, Alabama. This worker was doing everything right. He was in the right place. He was wearing visible safety clothing. Yet, a speeding driver lost control, left her traffic lane and crashed through a work area. In an instant, everything changed.
All work sites have dangers. Normal construction areas have many dangers due to the presence of workers, equipment and different subcontractors at the same time. Start with that busy construction site. Now, add a lot of drivers hurrying through their day. Some of these drivers are late for school or work. Some are unfamiliar with the area. Some are distracted. Suddenly, these drivers face signs, barriers and workers directing them into specific places. It can be confusing under normal circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to drive slowly and safely through highway work zones.
Each year, safety groups and many state departments of transportation recognize a week as National Work Zone Awareness Week. This year, it was April 20-24. During that week, these safety groups focus on developing rules, providing training and raising awareness of the issues. Of course, work zone safety is important throughout the year. But, a week of special awareness does give safety people an opportunity to focus on longer term planning.
As I write this post, I understand we are all focused on coronavirus health issues. It’s a difficult time of worry for our health, jobs and community. I’m optimistic. I know this difficult time will pass. When it does and our roads are again filled with commuters driving to school and work, we need to be aware of the road crew workers around us. Road construction safety will remain an important local safety issue. So, I decided not to let this week of safety awareness pass without a post on the topic.
Alabama Laws Protect Road Construction Areas
Safety starts with each of us. I write often about topics like worksite safety and distracted driving because I believe education and awareness make a difference. This is especially true with young drivers who are still developing safe habits and practices.
What Alabama laws impact highway work zone safety? Alabama law (See 32-5A-176.1) allows for special speed limits in road construction zones. According to the statute, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) can set speed limits in construction areas along state highways and Interstate highways. County commissions can set speed limits along county roads or highways. This allows government agencies to reduce speed limits as safety requires. And, the statute allows normal speeding fines to be doubled in construction zones. Speed through a construction zone and you may face a double fine!
According to ALDOT, “safety in work zones begins in the design phase.” This includes advance planning for a slower speed limit to protect workers and drivers. I’ve reviewed numerous ALDOT construction files over the years as part of accident investigations. Advance safety planning prevents sudden dangers on the highway.
But, double fines are not the only work zone penalty. In 2015, a distracted driver struck and killed a young man in a work zone near Citronelle, Alabama. This young man was working for his father’s construction company. You can read more about his story, here. Following this tragic death, his parents campaigned to amend Alabama law. The Alabama Legislature eventually passed a law providing criminal sanctions for vehicular homicide in some situations where Alabama drivers recklessly violate the Rules of the Road and cause a death.
Drivers Should Be Cautious In Road Construction Work Zones
We all have busy schedules. But, nobody should ignore safety. If we pay attention and drive carefully, we can prevent work zone accidents. Here are a few safety tips for highway work zones:
- Slow down. Remember — Speed limits are reduced in work zones for a good reason.
- Stay a safe distance from traffic barriers, trucks, construction equipment, and workers. Maintain extra space whenever possible.
- Be patient. Traffic delays may be unavoidable. Allow time for unexpected occurrences.
- Obey signs and road crew flag instructions.
- Merge early.
- Be courteous to other drivers. (I know, it’s difficult to be courteous to that aggressive and dangerous driver who acts recklessly and makes the situation worse.).
- Use your headlights at dusk (and during bad weather).
- Minimize distractions. (You cannot see workers or react quickly to traffic changes if distracted.)
Highway work zones are a part of driving in northern Alabama. Many of us drive through these areas every day as we go to school or work. The workers building and maintaining our roads deserve a safe working environment. We should all drive responsibly around them.
The Blackwell Law Firm represents clients with serious personal injury claims from construction and industrial accidents. We understand the rules on these job sites. If you have questions about an accident or injury, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.