Motorists are urged to make smart, safe driving choices behind the wheel as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 26-30.
Work zones are more prevalent than ever in a busy construction season for Christian County’s two largest cities. Lane closures are affecting traffic on Highway 14 in Ozark and Nixa, creating a need for added alertness along two key east-west corridors.
Drivers should also be aware in rural work zones. The Missouri Department of Transportation noted a rise in accidents involving buffer trucks and dozens of work zone fatalities in the final tallies for 2020, which is why MoDOT is offering up a public plea for more attentive driving in 2021.
“We need drivers to work with us,” said State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer Nicole Hood. “Last year, 27 lives were lost in work zone crashes. It’s on all of us to step up and make smart choices behind the wheel.”
In 2020, MoDOT protective vehicles with truck/trailer-mounted attenuators (TMAs) were struck an unprecedented 48 times. Jack Kirtlink, a maintenance worker in MoDOT’s Northeast District, was just one of dozens of MoDOT employees hit while driving these protective vehicles in 2020. Despite signage and flashing lights, a motorist crashed into his equipment at 70 mph, and the TMA ended up underneath the driver’s truck.
Since 2018, TMA crashes have resulted in 32 injuries and one fatality. These crashes are almost always the result of a driver not paying attention and/or driving too fast for conditions.
“We’ve got a job to do, and we want everyone to be safe. Just pay attention and slow down, that’s all we’re asking,” Kirtlink said.
There are two simple actions every driver can take to help protect themselves and those working along the highways: buckle up and put the phone down. In 2020, 74 percent of vehicle occupant fatalities in work zones were not wearing a seat belt. Distracted driving remains a leading contributor to work zone crashes.
Speeding is also a growing concern in work zones. MoDOT is partnering with the Missouri State Highway Patrol for “Operation Protect” to actively enforce speed limits in some of the state’s top work zones throughout the construction season.
To help keep workers and motorists safe, MoDOT has piloted the use of real-time digital alerts (Makeway Safety and HAAS Alert) on emergency response trucks and is expanding the installation of HAAS Alert to more than 500 vehicles, including all emergency response trucks and several mobile operation trucks. This technology enables MoDOT vehicles with emergency lights flashing to send alerts to motorists through tools such as the WAZE navigation app, giving drivers early warnings on approaching work zones.
Drivers should be aware of changing traffic conditions, observe warning signs and merge before reaching lane closures.
“You play a vital role in work zone safety,” Hood said. “Traffic can stop unexpectedly, or workers could enter the roadway. Stay alert so you know when to slow down and move over.”
To help make your travel safer, visit MoDOT’s Traveler Information Map at http://www.traveler.modot.org and find out what work zones you’ll encounter before you go. Missouri’s new strategic highway safety plan, Show-Me Zero, provides information for all Missourians to help promote four key messages: buckle up, phone down, slow down and drive sober.