I-95 work zone highlights campaign against distracted driving


Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton, pointing out that he lives “one exit down” from the Dale City rest area on I-95, touts a campaign against distracted driving. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The longest and most active highway work zone in the D.C. region this summer will be the 29-mile stretch of Interstate 95/395 in Northern Virginia where the 95 Express Lanes are under construction. So it was fitting that safety advocates chose the Dale City rest area along I-95 to launch their annual campaign against distracted driving in work zones.

The campaign is called “Orange Cones. No Phones.” But police, Virginia transportation officials and others concerned with traffic safety noted that it doesn’t necessarily take a phone to distract a driver. The summer driving season brings out the map twister and radio fiddler in many travelers.

“It’s dangerous enough to be out here in these work zones,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton said. “We’ve got to eliminate these distractions.”

Transurban-Fluor, the private partnership building the express lanes, and AAA Mid-Atlantic sponsored a survey of 943 Virginia I-95 drivers. In their survey, 56 percent said they use their phones while driving. Close to one in five reported texting while driving, they said.

These are some of the quotes extracted from the survey:

  • “I have seen many people texting or calling without hands-free devices while driving.”
  • “One was texting and another was reading a book.”
  • “Smoking, eating and talking on the phone all at the same time. They were using their knees and elbows to control the car!”
  • “I’ve seen men shaving and women putting on makeup.”
  • “I have seen people texting, making telephone calls, eating, reading the newspaper and trying to read a paper map.”

You love reading about the dumb things other drivers do, right? But here’s a troubling finding from the survey: Three out of four drivers recalled reading or seeing a recent news story detailing the dangers of distracted driving. And many of those drivers said it hasn’t led them to change their cellphone habits.

“It’s important for drivers to realize that it poses a real threat,” said Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

It may help somewhat that as of July 1, Virginia police can pull over a driver solely for texting while driving. But “fear of a fine shouldn’t be the motivating factor” in avoiding the behavior, said state police Capt. Michael Spivey, commander of the Fairfax Division.

No, it shouldn’t. There are 1,500 people working along the I-95/395 construction zone. If that isn’t enough for drivers to worry about, perhaps this is: Dangerous as the work zones are for the crews, the people most likely to be injured or killed in work zones are motorists.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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