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Construction zones on highway increase crash risk

Summer means increased road construction and increased risk of crashes in those work zones.

Summer is here and the time right for a road trip, and while the days are long and the weather is warm there is one certain risk that you are likely to see on the roads this summer and that is the telltale orange barrels of road construction. Across Illinois and most of the nation, summer brings out millions of drivers going on vacation or family visits down the estate or across the nation. It also brings out the orange barrels.

All of that traffic must contend with the detours, delays and congestion that highway construction brings. Motorists must remain alert to the normal risks on the highway, such as drivers impaired by alcohol, fatigue and distraction, and they have to pay increased attention to the narrower lanes, uneven pavement, lane changes, and of traveling in close proximity to traffic moving the opposite direction with little more than thin plastic poles for separation.

This roadwork is often necessary and typically overdue, with workers performing either maintenance or modernizing the road by adding additional lanes, wider shoulders, safety barriers and better-designed exits.

Inattention is dangerous for all involved in these work zones

However, it can create its own risks for drivers attempting to pass through a work zone and for the workers who must work on the site, often mere feet from passing cars and trucks. The greatest risk motorist face is that of the negligence of other drivers who fail to slow down and leave a sufficient following distance between vehicles.

The majority of crashes that occur in work zones are from vehicles traveling the same direction or vehicles and equipment that were fully stopped. In one long-term study of construction zone crashes, these types of crashes accounted for 89 per of the collisions, which was markedly higher than this type of collision on all roads.

Many of these crashes occur when drivers ignore warning signs and do not reduce speed enough to enable them to stop, should traffic slow abruptly. Most road construction sites employ warning signs far in advance of the actual work and that warning should be adequate to allow a vehicle to slow sufficiently to avoid rear-ending another vehicle.

Slower speeds mean less serious injuries

A study this year in Illinois found that slower speeds in work zones do contribute to more minor crashes and less severe injuries of motorists involved, although there were more crashes overall. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority found that work on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) almost doubled the number of crashes, with 2,193 in 2015 as compared to 1,261 in 2013.

However, the study also found that the number of severe crashes on that road was at the lowest level in six years. In 2015, there were only 15 crashes that produced "incapacitating injuries." In 2013, there were 23 such crashes. This section of road only experienced a single fatal crash last year, down from two in each of the previous years.

This makes sense, as lower speed limits and congestion force everyone to drive much slower than the speed limits that would be otherwise posted for that class of roadway. However, the Illinois State Police have noted an increase in the amount of speeding and distracted driving that has been observed in work zones. Drivers should adhere to the reduced construction speeds to protect their wallets in addition to their safety, as fines in construction zones begin at $375 and the state police are adding patrols to enforce all relevant traffic safety laws and provide an extra incentive for drivers to slow down.

Don't be that guy

One of the most frightening types of crashes are those where a vehicle is stopped due to congestion that often results around these construction zones and a vehicle approaches where the driver is distracted or inattentive for other reasons, like fatigue. You may observe skid marks on the pavement in advance of lane closures or shifts and they are probably the result of drivers making a desperate attempt to stop a collision.

The high-profile crash of comedian Tracy Morgan last year, where a truck driver crashed into his limo, killing one passenger and seriously injuring Morgan, highlight just how dangerous these types of crashes can be. There, the driver was fatigued and likely had dozed off prior to crashing into Morgan's vehicle.

The only way to stop such collisions is for everyone to recognize the danger and stay alert when approaching road construction work zones.

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