TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – You’ve probably seen it on your way to work, traveling on a road trip, or stuck in traffic while driving home: men and women in bright orange vests on the roadside.
As National Work Zone Awareness Week comes to a close, the U.S. Department of Transportation is working to raise awareness of the deadly toll that drivers risk by not paying attention on the roads, especially in work zones.
There were 762 fatal crashes and 842 fatalities in work zones in 2019, according to the USDOT. A USDOT release says the data shows an 11.2% increase nationally since 2006. Of those crashes and deaths, 62 crashes and 68 deaths were in Florida.
“We all have a role to play when it comes to safely repairing and improving our nation’s roads, bridges and highways,” Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said. “If you are driving and see construction work ahead – and especially workers on the job – please slow down and drive carefully.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, part of USDOT, released some tips for sharing the road:
Based on numbers released from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the bulk of the fatalities and crashes were “truck-involved,” with 247 fatal crashes and 288 fatalities nationally.
Over the three years leading up to 2019, data shows the average number of fatal crashes was 206.7 and 247.3 fatalities.
Florida saw 10 fatal crashes and 12 fatalities in 2019 versus the previous three-year average of 14.7 fatal crashes and 15.7 fatalities. Still, the state had 11 pedestrian-involved fatal crashes and 10 fatalities, while the country had 136 fatal crashes and 133 fatalities.
According to information from the FMCSA, Florida spends $9.9 billion each year on infrastructure, creating work zones on urban roadways and the interstate. Across the country, FMCSA says Florida holds the second highest ranking for fatal crashes that involve commercial motor vehicles in the nearly 500 active work zones in operation.
As a state with “robust logistics infrastructure,” Florida has multiple seaports and tourism travel. There were a reported 131.4 million visitors in 2019, according to VisitFlorida.
Still, the travel and work on roadways and highways in Florida is not without risk to both travelers and the workers who work across the state. There were five worker fatalities reporter statewide in 2019, coming down from the previous three-year average of 14. While the number of fatalities in the state went down slightly, worker fatalities across the U.S. rose above the previously reported 133 fatalities in the three-year average. Nationally, 135 worker fatalities were reported in 2019 alone.
Part of the problem in Florida is the lane size in work zones, especially for truck drivers.
“Work zones present challenges for truck drivers across Florida – narrowed lanes, sudden stops, traffic pattern shifts, and uneven road surfaces can lead to crashes and fatalities if they are not prepared and alert,” the FMCSA said.
FMCSA also says that large blind stops, long stopping distances and size constraints make large trucks and buses driving through work zones face even more challenges.
The FHWA says as the U.S. highway system ages, it requires more reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance to give drivers a safe and efficient infrastructure.
The need to update and rehabilitate the country’s physical infrastructure is now at the center of national debates, with President Joe Biden and Senate Republicans each proposing different plans to address physical infrastructure needs, and the potential investments it would require.
Going forward, addressing all of the needs of improving roads and highways while protecting workers will continue to present challenges, regardless of what legislation passes, or the cost of making the improvements.