AUSTIN (Nexstar) — There was a decrease of work zone crashes in the Lone Star State last year, but the Texas Department of Public Safety says the work to prevent these situations isn’t over. To highlight safety on the roads during National Work Zone Awareness week, the transportation agency created an interactive exhibit with 161 construction barrels that represent the men, women and youth killed in work zone crashes last year.
Numbers from TxDOT show there were 25,162 crashes in work zones throughout Texas in 2018, resulting in 161 fatalities and 684 injuries. More than 80 percent of the deaths were drivers and/or their passengers. TxDOT tracks these numbers annually.
“We think folks are getting the message now that they do need to slow down in work zones,” Brad Wheelis with TxDOT said. “It just takes a second or a few seconds.”
Called the “Be Safe. Drive Smart” campaign, the state is urging drivers to be extra careful when driving through the estimated 3,000 active work zones taking place in Texas at any given time. It’s part of a larger campaign called #EndTheStreakTX to remind drivers about their responsibilities to prevent deaths on Texas’ roadways. Since 2000, at least one person has died on the state’s roads every day.
“It’s a really intimidating feeling,” Commander Eric Miesse with the Austin Police Department said. “It’s scary because you’re standing there and you have a vehicle pass you doing 70 plus and you don’t know if you’re going to get clipped by a mirror. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Texas has several laws related to work zone driving safety. The Move Over/Slow Down law requires drivers to switch lanes or reduce their speed to 20 miles per hour below the posted limit when they see flashing blue or amber lights on a TxDOT vehicle, emergency vehicle, tow truck or law enforcement car stopped on the roadside or shoulder. Failure to abide by this law can result in fines up to $2,000. Fines in work zones can double when there are workers present.
“The fines — that’s actually been a big help,” Miesse said. “In fact, I had a meeting with the municipal court this past week about making sure that officers were notating correctly to make sure that people’s fines were doubled if they were getting stopped in work zones for speeding.”
Miesse said two top problems that cause work zone crashes are drivers who aren’t slowing down and those who aren’t paying attention.
“All of a sudden you get to that work zone and traffic will slow or come to a stop,” he said. “That momentary distraction — you’re not paying attention and your speed — you can’t stop in time and you can’t brake in time. You’ll hit that car in front of you.”
“Drive smart,” he added. “Pay attention. The most important thing you can do is get to where you’re going alive and that’s same for everyone else on the road.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw echoed the same sentiment, pointing to what he says is a key issue: distracted drivers on their cell phones.
“People are stupid,” he said. “They’re driving down the road and you see it every day.”
“Ten seconds for one text,” he continued. “Ten seconds…an entire football field, you’re driving blind.”
McCraw said since January 2016, there have been 51 state troopers hit from behind when they were parked on the side of the road with their vehicle lights on. They were enforcing traffic, protecting a citizen from a crash site or even providing public assistance, he said.
“When you text and drive, you’re risking your life and you’re risking lives of others and when you make that 10-second mistake that can change your life for the rest of the world,” he said.