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Give them a brake. Work zone crashes are up despite low traffic

They fill potholes. They stripe roads. They build our highways and byways. Road construction workers face serious danger while they do their jobs.

That danger seems to be increasing due to the pandemic, as more motorists are driving recklessly or at excessive speeds on the newly empty roads. At the same time, some transportation departments have stepped up construction to take advantage of the lighter traffic.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), traffic on all U.S. roadways dropped by 40% in April and 26% in May, compared to the same periods last year. Traffic volume has risen over the last few months, but road construction crews are still reporting increases in speeding and distracted driving.

How bad is it? In just one week in September in Michigan, drivers separately struck three county workers and a state contractor. Two of them were killed. That compares to three worker fatalities total last year.

"Speeding has really come to the forefront during COVID. People are going much too fast," a spokesperson for the Governors Highway Safety Association told Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts. "In work zones, that's the worst thing we can have happen."

Indeed, according to Stateline, states have been experiencing an increase in drivers speeding over 100 mph during the pandemic.

Work zones are much more dangerous than open road

The reason work zones are so dangerous, according to the FHA, is the daily, unexpected changes in the traffic pattern, narrowed rights of way and the presence of work crews just a few feet from moving traffic. Things are happening quickly. Lanes are being changed. There are narrow lanes and concrete barriers. Sometimes, there are just traffic cones demarcating the workers' area.

All it takes is a single speeding driver who misses a lane change and you could have an accident. Just one distracted driver who doesn't see the traffic cones.

It's not just work crews who are injured and killed in work zone accidents. In 2018, there were 672 fatal wrecks in work zones in the U.S. Only 124 of those killed were workers.

You might think that fewer people on the roads would make traffic safer, but that has not been the case. Instead, the pandemic seems to have led some people to believe they can drive however they like.

As the sign says, "give 'em a brake". Take extra care in work zones. You could save a life.

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