t is said that in Illinois there are two seasons: winter and road construction. It seems that once the snow melts, motorists in Illinois and elsewhere in the United States can rarely find a roadway that is not under construction. And along with roadway construction come the myriad hazards of traffic direction for roadway crews. Because of frequently changing traffic patterns, inattentive drivers distracted by cell phones and GPS devices, and motorists vying for position, construction zones are becoming increasingly dangerous places to work.
Even though construction zones are announced to motorists well in advance of their approach by flashing barricades, warning signs, indicators of reduced speed zones, and flaggers, nearly every construction zone flagger can tell stories of near misses, angry motorists, and even collisions. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, six roadway workers were killed in 2003 while performing their duties at roadway construction zones in the state. In 2004 there were a total of 39 persons killed in work zone crashes in Illinois, including motorists.
Statistics from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse show that 1,068 persons died nationwide in 2004 in work zone crashes.1 According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), on average from 1999 to 2003 about 15 percent of the work zones fatalities were non-motorists (pedestrians and bicyclists). Also, FHWA reports that more than 40,000 people are injured each year as a result of motor vehicle crashes in work zones, that approximately half of the fatal work zone crashes occurred during the day, and that more than twice as many fatal crashes occurred on weekdays as on weekends.2
Historically, work zone enforcement has been limited for a number of reasons. The officers working the work zones are likely to be off duty, in secondary employment status, and working for the construction contractor. Specific training in work zone enforcement has not been developed or provided to these officers. In many work zones there is no safe place for an officer to conduct enforcement action. Traffic lanes are often reduced in width, making the handling of the traffic volume difficult and the reentry of the violator’s vehicle into the traffic flow equally hazardous for the officer and the violator. In recent years law enforcement has taken a new look at traffic enforcement in these areas. Working cooperatively with construction companies, many law enforcement agencies have had success in slowing traffic and providing a safer environment for roadway workers.
Crouching Lawman, Hidden LIDAR
The Schaumburg Police Traffic Bureau initiated a program aimed at making road-way construction zones safer in 2002. The program, affectionately known as Crouching Lawman, Hidden LIDAR, has since been replicated in many areas of the United States.
In 2002 a massive project was under-taken by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to realign and reconstruct a major intersection of two state routes, along with several miles of approaching roadway. Working with the construction site supervisor, a Schaumburg officer dressed in construction worker garb, complete with reflective vest and hardhat, used a tripod-mounted LIDAR, which resembled a surveyor's transit, to take enforcement action. The officer clocked speeding autos traveling through the construction zone and radioed their speeds and descriptions to chase vehicles farther down the road.
The program was a real and measurable success. At one point during the campaign, officers issued 45 speeding citations in one hour. Construction crews were ecstatic with the results and were able to return to their duties in an environment of renewed safety and protection.
Florida Highway Patrol
Major Grady Carrick of the Florida High-way Patrol (FHP) was attending a conference in the Chicago area and read an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune about Schaumburg's construction zone enforcement tactics. He thought the program might work with the FHP. I thought this was a great example of thinking outside the box," said Carrick, who then brought the idea to an FHP staff meeting for discussion.
Sadly and coincidentally, the next day, a roadway construction worker was struck and killed in Florida by a passing motorist. This event cemented Carrick's intention to have FHP take decisive action. Florida's Operation Hardhat was soon under way. Florida troopers issued as many as 30 tickets an hour during the campaign. The Federal Highway Administration and the Roadway Safety Foundation gave special recognition to the FHP when it was chosen as one of the 2003 National Roadway Safety Award winners.
Hoffman Estates Police DepartmentIllinois Legislation
The Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department recently decided to target driver education of construction zone safety. A new poster is being distributed aimed at reminding motorists to slow down and that enforcement is taking place. The tag line--"Slow down for them or you'll be stopping for us"--is designed to give drivers fair warning that enforcement is a top priority for this agency.
Illinois, like many other states, has been vigorously revising its traffic codes that deal with safety in construction zones. Recently, the governor signed into law new legislation that increases the fine for speeding in a construction zone to a minimum of $375 for first offenses and $1,000 for second offenses. The governor also signed P.A. 93-947, which allows the Illinois State Police to establish an automated traffic control system for obtaining a photograph or other recorded image of any vehicle violating the speed limit in a construction zone. In Illinois, workers need not be present in the construction zone to enforce these laws.
Like the Schaumburg officers who conceived the Crouching Lawman, Hidden LIDAR program, Illinois roadway flagger Richard Heinz was also thinking creatively. Heinz has worked in construction zones for a number of years, perched on the edge of speeding traffic lanes holding his Stop and Slow sign. Like many workers, Heinz had a close call when he was nearly struck by a passing car, saving himself only by jumping into a roadside ditch.
That experience sparked an idea, and Heinz developed the J-4 automatic flagging machine. The J-4 is positioned at the side of the roadway and displays either the Stop or the Slow sign while the worker operates it by remote control from a safe location, away from the flow of traffic, via a 25-foot cable. The unit also displays a red light while in the Stop mode and a flashing amber light in the Slow mode. It has four retractable stabilizing outriggers and a push-bar handle. The entire unit weighs 205 pounds, and once it has been unloaded and set up one person can easily move the J-4 through the job site.3
National Work Zone Awareness Week
Each year, U.S. FHWA promotes National Work Zone Awareness Week during the early part of April. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of work zone safety issues and to get motorists to slow down, drive safely, and be more aware of their surroundings when traveling through these areas. Agencies can find accurate and useful information, including facts and statistics, community programs and resources, on FHWAs Web site at (www.fhwa.dot.gov).
Law Enforcement Priorities
Today's successful law enforcement agency is proactive, not reactive, in addressing emerging issues. Improving safety in roadway construction zones is one issue that should not be ignored and is one area where enforcement efforts can really make a difference.
Agencies should develop a comprehensive action plan, working with the state transportation department officials and road construction companies to integrate enforcement into these areas to develop a climate of compliance by motorists in work zones. Working with the local media to advertise education campaigns, including issuing an invitation to the press to experience the problem on site, should always be a component of any specialized enforcement project.
This outreach effort should also include after-action press releases and coverage advising the media of the results of the campaign. Involving other entities such as schools, civic groups, faith-based organizations, and local businesses increases the chances that the message is being disseminated, understood and acknowledged by motorists.
Its one thing to talk about the danger of work zones or to quote statistics, but its another thing to stand in a work zone where cars, trucks, buses, and tractor-trailers thunder past, inches away. Motorists need to be made aware of the true human scope of the problem and how their state or local agency plans to address it.
In an effort to increase awareness in Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education, the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation (ATSSF), and the Illinois Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) are working with schools across Illinois to hold a drawing contest. The finalists are sent to IDOT for the chance to win savings bonds, trophies, and the opportunity to be featured in the 2006-2007 Illinois Work Zone Safety Calendar.
Law enforcement agencies should be planning now for their education and enforcement activities in 2006. Special attention should be placed on roadway construction zones, before the next fatal crash. ■
1 National Work Zone Safety Clearinghouse, “Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes by State and Construction/Maintenance Zone (2004), February 8, 2006, (http://wzsafety.tamu.edu/crash_data/fatal.stm) .
2 Federal Highway Administration Work Zone Safety Facts & Statistics, February 8, 2006, (http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/wz_facts.htm).
3 Heinz designed the machine several years ago and IDOT began testing the device to Federal Highway Administration standards. The J-4 was later granted interim approval by FHWA as meeting the criteria of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. IDOT has purchased 20 of the J-4s and they are in experimental use throughout the state. The J-4 is manufactured by Endless Visions Inc. in Rushville, Illinois (www.evisafety.com).