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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 12:12 PM ET, 11/29/2011

Round-the-clock safety needed in work zones

This frequently asked question came up again during my online chat Monday.

“Work zone speed limits: Do work zone speed limits apply even on a holiday or Saturday when no work is being done?”

I didn’t get a chance to address it during the chat, so I’d like to make the point now. The answer is yes. Work zone safety programs are about drivers as well as road crews. The posted speed limits apply whether or not the road crews are present in the construction zone.

The question comes up most often in Maryland, because Maryland uses cameras to enforce the speed limits in work zones.

The speed cameras on Interstate 95 north of D.C. in the Intercounty Connector work zone are gone now, because that segment of the connector has opened. But drivers in this area still will encounter cameras on the Capital Beltway in the Northwest Branch bridge work zone between University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue.

Drivers on their holiday getaways should be aware that they may encounter the cameras in work zones near Baltimore and Frederick.

Virginia doesn’t use speed cameras, but safety advocates are no less concerned about protecting both the drivers and the workers in areas such as the Beltway high-occupancy toll lanes work zone, which stretches for 14 miles.

That area is the focus of the “Orange Cones. No Phones.” safety campaign, urging drivers to concentrate extra hard on the road and traffic when passing through work zones.

The sponsors of that program, Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic, think they’re having some success. Their most recent annual study, which surveys 1,000 drivers who use the Beltway, found that talking on a hands-free or hand-held cellphone, reading texts and writing texts all decreased in the past year. The sponsors say the greatest decrease occurred among drivers talking on hand-held cellphones, dropping from 33 percent in 2010 to 22 percent in 2011

I’m still not confident we’re where we need to be on this. I see plenty of drivers changing lanes across solid white lines in the HOT lanes work zone while talking away on cellphones.

One of the things I like about the “Orange Cones. No Phones.” program is that it doesn’t pretend that driver distractions with cellphones and texting are phenomena restricted to goofy kids. The program targets adults and their employers. Many drivers involved in an initial survey for the program said their bosses expected them to keep working while traveling — even if that meant talking or texting while driving.

Work zone safety is an important issue now because we’re going to have a lot of people on the local highways who are distracted by the rush of holiday shopping and the need to cover long distances on holiday getaways.

The highway departments suspend most road work during the long holiday weekends. And we'll have two more of them in late December. Also, work schedules can be thrown off by bad weather.

But that doesn’t mean we drivers get to decide when it’s okay to speed through a work zone. The lane shifts, lane narrowings, jersey barriers and rough pavement are all still there, even when workers aren’t present. The people most likely to be injured in work zone accidents are motorists.

By  |  12:12 PM ET, 11/29/2011

Categories:  Traffic Safety

 
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