SIKESTON - Motorists and highway workers across the state are sporting orange ribbons this week in honor of Missouri Work Zone Awareness Week.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has joined national and state organizations to promote the National Work Zone Awareness Week.
"The purpose (of the week) is to get drivers and passengers to be aware of the dangers involved in the construction zone," MoDOT District Engineer Scott Meyer said.
In 2000, 1,093 people died from vehicle crashes in work zones nationally. On average, more than 40,000 people per year are injured in work-zone crashes. In Missouri, 15 motorists died and 838 people were injured in work-zone crashes. MoDOT has lost 66 highway workers statewide to work-zone-related accidents since 1945, although no workers have been killed since 1997.
Meyer said he thinks the reason workers haven't been killed in Missouri over the last few years can be credited to MoDOT's focus on safety. "The fact that we've been working as safely as possible and have made efforts, such as displaying more signs and warnings, to ensure awareness have played a role in no workers being killed," Meyer explained. "We've also been informing the public about safety over the last few years."
On the national level, fatal crashes increased 58 percent from 1997 to 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
MoDOT will have more than 700 active construction projects throughout Missouri, with 54 of those projects taking place in the Southeast region in 2002.
Walter Brewer, MoDOT senior highway worker for almost 16 years, will be working on several of these projects. "A lot of people think that we're out there goofing off or are in the way," Brewer said. "But we're out there to help. We're trying to get drivers from point A to point B."
Brewer said he thinks speed and motorists talking on cell phones generate most of the work-zone accidents. Drivers should observe conditions better and stay levelheaded, he said.
Meyer also offers some words of wisdom for those drivers who feel they need to speed up, beat the zone and pass on the shoulders of a work area. "The unexpected happens in work zones," he cautioned. "Safety features that are normally present are not present in work zones. Therefore, drivers need to allow a little more time to react and should focus on slowing down."
Aside from watching speed, MoDOT offers a number of suggestions to motorists to ensure work-zone safety. Some of these include using seatbelts, obeying all work-zone signs and turning on headlights so others can see the vehicle.
For drivers who don't want to listen to reason, perhaps the vision of dollar signs, as in a $250 fine, will help deter some from breaking the rules. "I think fines have been effective," Meyer said. "We think we're seeing people react to that, especially for a person who travels a lot because of their job."
Motorists face the risk of receiving a $250 fine when speeding or passing in an active work zone. Even when workers aren't present, $35 is added to any fine imposed for speeding and other violations in construction, maintenance and other highway work zones. The money collected from increased fines is distributed to the local school districts, as are other fines collected on state highways.
As part of activities week for Work Zone Awareness Week, MoDOT's Southeast District is sponsoring its Second Annual Work Zone Safety Poster Contest. The contest is open to schools in the 14-county district. Each winning school is eligible to participate in an interactive work zone safety assembly with MoDOT. The entry deadline is April 16.
"Informing children on the importance of work zone safety not only educates future drivers, but also informs parents," Meyer explained. "Children tell their parents, and parents will listen to their kids more than they will listen to anyone else."
Information and maps on future and active work zones can be found at MoDOT's Web site (www.modot.state.mo.us) or by calling their customer service center at 1-888-275-6636 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
According to Brewer, work-zone safety boils down to one thing. "Everyone needs to take responsibility," he said. "We have to do our part, and drivers have to theirs."