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Distracted Drivers in Highway Work Zones: A Dangerous Mix

Summer's here and on the highways it can mean only one thing: Orange barrels and road construction. While it may mean more delays and detours for drivers, it also means greater risk for construction zone workers.

Construction zone are inherently dangerous; roads are often in partially completed situations, with some lanes open, some closed, various grades and surface conditions. Frequently there are abrupt lane changes, with opposing traffic lanes within inches of each other.

Additionally, you have very large, very heavy construction equipment moving about, sometimes in a seemingly haphazard fashion; bulldozers, earthmovers, dump trucks, graders, asphalt and concrete paving equipment all operating in a complex ballet of behemoths.

Smart Phones: Stupid Behavior

Then add the newest hazard: the driver with a smartphone, distracted and not paying attention. The end result can be bad. Very bad.

40,000 Injured, 576 Dead

The Virginia Department of Transportation report that in 2011, 3,457 work zone crashes occurred in Virginia, resulting in 11 deaths and 1,816 injuries. Nationwide in 2010, 576 workers and motorists were killed in highway work zone crashes nationwide, and more than 40,000 injured.

A survey of highway contractors indicated 68 percent report vehicle crashes on their jobsites within the last year. These crashes lead to lost time, with 35 percent of the accidents requiring the job be shut down temporarily, and almost half of those incidents lasted more than two days.

They also report 28 percent result in injured workers and 18 percent have suffered a fatality.

Orange Cones. No Phones.

Virginia is attempting to raise awareness of the danger with the "Orange Cones. No Phones." campaign, and help reduce distracted driving crashes in work zones.

A recent event held in Northern Virginia as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week, included Deborah Hersman, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

She remarked, "I commuted up (to this event) from Lorton, Va., and unfortunately I still saw people texting and talking on their phones while they were driving through this very busy area."

An article from WTOP.com discussing the National Work Zone Awareness Week event, reported that 40 percent of drivers in work zones are on a cellphone.

The NTSB has recommended that use of electronic devices like cellphone and tablets be banned and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned hand held cellphone use by commercial motor vehicle drivers.

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