About three months ago, six highway workers were killed when a driver, attempting to change lanes, sideswiped a car and ended up careening into a worksite. It was one of those shocking news stories – not because there was a crash on I-695, but because of the sheer number of innocent bystanders who died as a result.
The Baltimore Banner reported that it was one of the deadliest traffic crashes in the last 40 years. Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which is maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Banner found that between 1980 and 2020, “there were only two crashes that resulted in more than six fatalities. Nationally, there were fewer than 400 crashes that deadly.” The news organization also reported there were 104 sideswipes on I-695 in fall of 2022 alone.
So, what does this tell us? We see a few worrying trends.
- Fatalities are increasing across the board. As regular readers of our blog know, the last few years have been especially deadly on the roads. Not only has the number of fatal accidents between passenger vehicles increased, but so, too, has the number of fatal truck accidents.
- Drivers are still taking big risks on the road. The number of speeding drivers took a big jump during the pandemic, as the roads were largely empty. But even though life has returned to “normal,” and people are back on the roads, drivers are still acting as though the roads were empty. They’re still speeding and it’s putting lives at risk.
- Lane departure accidents are increasing. That jump in sideswipes? That’s not unique to Maryland; data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) shows that about half of all fatal wrecks across the country are the result of lane departure accidents. An overreliance on technology to protect the vehicle, larger blind spots, greater distractions – any of these may be the reason why these types of crashes are increasing.
But the most worrying trend of all, perhaps, is the increase in work zone accidents. And the reason it’s so worrying is because the number of work zones – here in Maryland and across the country – is about to increase. All those roadway projects that have been in the works for years? Every state in the union is about to break ground on them as funds from the infrastructure bill are finally starting to come through.
What the data says about work zone injuries and fatalities
The Baltimore Banner cites a work zone safety survey recently released by the Associated General Contractors of America and software company Heavy Construction Systems Specialists. There were respondents from across the country, though Maryland also had its own survey. Here’s some of what the national survey revealed about worker injuries from crashes:
- Out of 732 responders, 24% said there were at least five work zone crashes in the last year.
- Out of 395 responders, 16% reported that one worker was injured as a result of these crashes; 12% in total responded that more than one worker was injured.
- Out of 412 responders, 5% reported that one worker died as a result of these crashes.
In Maryland, the numbers were different:
- Out of 24 responders, 42% reported there were at least five work zone crashes in the last year.
- Out of 10 responders, 20% reported at least one worker injury; 30% reported at least five workers were injured.
- Out of 11 responders, 9% reported that one worker died; 45% reported that five or more workers died.
Are work zones riskier now?
The survey also asked the following questions about the risk of impending crashes. Note – some of these questions allowed for more than one answer, so the totals may be greater than 100:
In your opinion, how much of a risk are highway work zone crashes now compared to one year ago? (739 Responses Nationally; 24 Responses in Maryland)
- Greater risk now: 57% nationally; 67% in Maryland
- Lesser risk now: 3% nationally; 4% in Maryland
- About the same risk now: 40% nationally; 29% in Maryland
Why do you think highway work zone construction is more dangerous today compared to one year ago? (418 Responses Nationally; 16 Responses in Maryland)
- Traffic: 56% nationally; 69% in Maryland
- Phones: 83% nationally; 88% in Maryland
- Speeding: 73% nationally; 88% in Maryland
- Other: 29% nationally; 44% in Maryland
Has there been an increase in work zone crashes when performing night work? (418 Responses Nationally; 13 Responses in Maryland)
- Yes, they increased: 47% nationally; 69% in Maryland
- No change: 48% nationally; 23% in Maryland
- No, they decreased: 6% nationally; 8% in Maryland
What can we do to make Maryland’s work zones safer?
Whether it’s the Baltimore Beltway or a local road in your neighborhood, all work zones basically look the same, right? There’s usually a sign with a lower posted speed limit, and bright lights as well as bright orange cones. Bigger projects usually have those jersey barriers:
The point is that every roadside construction zone is clearly marked (at night or during the day), so drivers know they’re about to enter a work zone. They can see the giant construction vehicles. Yet drivers continue to behave as though these work zones pose no risk to them (nor they to the workers in those zones), thus increasing the risk of a car accident that harms multiple people.
What can be done? Per the Baltimore Banner, the workers themselves are asking for “greater police presence, automatic ticketing for speed violations and work zone cameras, stricter laws, fines and penalties and stricter enforcement.”
Could all of that help? Probably. People slow down around cops; position them at work zones and that may be enough to get drivers to pay closer attention.
But the single best thing you can do is be more careful when you’re passing by roadwork. Drive through the areas with caution even if you don’t see any workers. Remember that construction vehicles can enter and exit a work zone at any time, and they may be driving more slowly than you. Stay in your lane, too, even if you want to pass the car ahead of you. Highway lanes may be narrower through construction sites, so you may not have as much room to pass as you think you do.
Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and feet ready to hit the brakes if needed. These are important steps you can take to reduce your risk of a work zone collision. They’re also good behaviors to model for your children. If you do sustain injuries in a roadside construction crash, however, we may be able to help. The Maryland car accident attorneys of Plaxen Adler Muncy, P.A. have decades of experience handling complex injury claims. Call or contact us at any time to schedule a free consultation.