You’re on your usual route to work in the morning, trying to make it on time and keep your boss happy. Things seem to be going well when suddenly traffic slows to a crawl and people start moving over. “You’ve gotta be kidding!” you say as the traffic cones and construction equipment appear in your field of view. Why are they working on the road during rush hour?
Across northern Alabama, population growth means roadway expansion. If you’ve read my prior articles, you know I’ve discussed the safety and expansion needs of several area roads. I’ve written several articles about Highway 53, a major Huntsville roadway which desperately needs improvements. For years, Highway 53 has been a dangerous road where far too many serious car accidents occur. We’ve handled accident claims involving serious injuries and deaths at points along Highway 53 all the way to Ardmore. Our area legislators have worked tirelessly for years to bring needed improvements to that roadway. It looks like positive safety changes are finally occurring.
With population growth, highway authorities now have planned expansion of Highways 53, Highway 72 and Interstate 565. With parts of I-565 seeing nearly 115,000 vehicles per day, parts of Highway 72 seeing nearly 50,000 vehicles per day, and parts of Highway 53 seeing nearly 30,000 vehicles per day, there’s no denying how important – and how busy – these highways can get. They have been vital to North Alabama’s growing economy.
You may be one of those commuters who relies on these roads daily to get to work on time. You may also be one of those commuters who is concerned about how the construction will affect your daily travels. That’s totally understandable. Concerns like “Will I still be able to get to work on time?” “Will it still be safe for me?” and “What do I do if I get into a wreck in an area under construction?” might be flooding through your mind.
This roadway project will include the widening of I-565 from four lanes to six lanes between County Line Road and Wall Triana Highway. It will also include widening Highway 72 between Providence Main Street and Nance Road and Highway 53 between Taurus Drive and Harvest Road. You might be starting to think that this project sounds kind of ambitious. It is. It will have a significant impact on Madison County, Limestone County, and the city of Huntsville. During the construction period, it’s also going to have an impact on your commute to work.
Once complete, you’ll probably be happy to have the extra lanes. It’s the construction-period that is frustrating to drivers and a safety concern to everyone.
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, over 3,000 car crashes in 2019 were related to roadwork, and nearly 600 of those resulted in injury or death. Personally, I think that is an under-reporting of injuries. Why do I think the true number is much higher? Many injuries are not noted by law enforcement at the scene of the accident for several reasons. Accident scenes are often chaotic. Authorities want to clear traffic as quickly as possible. And, many people deny their injuries in the immediate moments after impact. Other injuries are often latent in nature — You start hurting hours after the wreck when the adrenaline wears off. You can read more about latent personal injuries following a car accident on this blog. I’ve written several times about that topic.
Although I think the numbers are underreported, that’s still a significant number of work zone car accidents and injuries in Alabama. This makes sense considering the traffic congestion and confusion often caused by roadwork. Drivers trying to get to their jobs on time are encountering unfamiliar road conditions. In work zones, drivers run an increased risk of running into:
- Loose gravel and bumpy roads
- Lane closure and traffic congestion
- Sudden slowing or stopping of traffic
- Diminished visibility from dust and construction equipment
- Confusion due to redirected travel
So what can you do as a driver to minimize these risks? Here are a few safety tips:
- Stay alert and pay attention to the other drivers around you. You may not have had your morning coffee yet and feel a bit groggy. I get it. But, staying alert and ready to respond to changing conditions can save you from a world of injury, damage payments, and dealing with your insurance company.
- Don’t tailgate the driver in front of you. Rear-end collisions are by far the most common type of accident in roadwork conditions because of the sudden stopping that often happens. You might be rushing to get to work on time but riding the bumper of the car in front of you won’t get you there any faster. I’ve nagged my teenage drivers many times to not follow too closely in the morning during their commute down Highway 431 / Governors Drive to school. Getting a kid to leave early for school is not always the easiest task!
- Stay mindful of the workers on the side of the road and follow any directions they give you. These people are working hard to improve our infrastructure and already have a dangerous job as it is. Over the years, I’ve represented too many workers hit by a car while doing this work. These crashes are often deadly to the worker. Even when the worker lives, the injuries can be catastrophic. Several years ago, I represented a worker who suffered permanent and disabling brain injury when struck in a City of Madison work zone. I cannot even describe the emotional toll on his family trying to handle the aftermath of a serious brain injury. From the terrible wait in the ICU for days, to hearing doctors tell you he will never recover, to dealing with a son who is not the same, to planning how to reconfigure their entire lives and home permanently to help their son, this family faced so many heartbreaking issues.
- Merge early and respond as soon as you can to any road changes. Doing so will give you the time you need to change lanes safely, minimizing your stress and risk of getting into an accident. You don’t want to get stuck at the last second waiting for an opening in traffic. Think about the times you’ve patiently waited and another vehicle sped ahead trying to merge at the very last moment. Don’t be that guy!
Maybe you’re already following these tips. That’s great. But you still can’t control what goes on around you. What if the unexpected happens? What if another driver acts negligently? What if the construction company isn’t following safety rules? Because someone else acted negligently, you may find yourself in a wreck.
In a highway work zone, determining liability can sometimes be difficult. You must consider both the construction crew and the other involved drivers. When the police arrive on the scene, they should take statements from everyone – even if those statements conflict. Too often, the police are more concerned with clearing the traffic delay and important witnesses are missed. Here are some things that are useful to know when determining liability.
Did the construction company breach their duty to make the construction site safe? They might have if:
- Their construction zone forces drivers to make sudden and dangerous turns and maneuvers.
- Warning signs are improperly placed, inaccurate, or lacking.
- Signs, barricades, or equipment is placed too close to moving lanes.
- The flow of traffic is impaired by operating construction equipment.
In recent years, we’ve investigated numerous highway work zones. An early and thorough investigation is key! Many of the highway construction companies have a very close relationship with the Alabama Department of Transportation. That close relationship can negatively impact the information obtainable, especially if you delay.
Did a driver cause the wreck? Maybe the construction company was following all the rules. It may be a driver’s fault if:
- A car hits the construction equipment or a warning sign and causes a chain reaction involving other cars.
- A car properly slows down but gets rear-ended by another driver who was speeding, tailgating, or not paying attention.
- The driver is distracted and fails to notice the warning signs or the rule-abiding drivers around them.
Construction across northern Alabama promises to bring jobs and improve all our lives. Sometimes, the process can be frustrating. We understand the frustrations and dangers of roadway work zones. We’ve seen the impact of dangers on drivers and workers. A little attention to safety can prevent a lot of needless harm.
We are personal injury and accident lawyers who help families across Alabama. From our office in downtown Huntsville, we represent people in counties statewide following serious personal injuries. If you have questions about Alabama law or an injury issue, let us know. Our consultations are always confidential and free.