You might think the heavy machinery, high temperatures or physical labor make highway construction work a dangerous job, but state highway workers say drivers often pose the greatest danger.
“When we’re out in the open traffic, it’s really scary because it doesn’t take but a split second and it could be over,” said Ellis Holder, a project supervisor for INDOT’s Greenfield district.
This week is INDOT’s Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. The campaign focuses on educating the public about rules and dangers in a work zone. The message is two-fold: pay attention and slow down.
The speed limit in a work zone must be at least ten miles per hour below the established speed limit in that area.
A state law passed in 2011 increased the penalties for speeding or driving aggressively in a work zone. The first speeding citation carries a fine of $300 and goes up to $500 on the second violation and up to $1,000 for the third citation in the same year. Driving aggressively or recklessly carries a fine of up to $5,000.
This week, INDOT is using the overhead electronic message boards on highways around the state to get the word out about the campaign. There are also median memorials dedicated to the eight people who lost their lives in highway work zones last year.
Nationally, four out of five people injured in work zones are drivers, not workers. INDOT spokesperson Nathan Riggs said rear-end collisions account for one in three accidents in work zones.
As INDOT gets the word out, state police officers are giving the tickets out. In 2011 state troopers started using white pick-up trucks that resemble work trucks to catch speeders. Trooper Dan Criswell said he often pulls people over who are caught off guard.
“The things we’re looking for are following too closely, aggressive and dangerous drivers, drivers that are in a hurry,” said Criswell.
“It’s really important to us to get the motoring public to pay attention. We know we’re causing an inconvenience out here, but the ultimate goal is for their benefit. We build these roads and bridges to help things run smoother and to get people where they’re going,” Holder said.