Work Zone Safety

A work area is defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration as, “That part of the highway being used or occupied for the conduct of highway work, within which workers, vehicles, equipment, materials, supplies, excavations or other obstructions are present.”

Some facts about road work zones

  • The most common crash in a highway work zone is the rear-end collision.
  • As more emphasis is put on rebuilding/refurbishing the highway system in the post-interstate era, more work zones will be set up each year. More zones mean more risk of collisions and deaths (1,092 people died nationally in work zones in the year 2000)
  • Most ticket fines may be doubled in work zones
  • Enforcement of traffic laws in work zones is maintained 24 hours a day, work zone speed limits are enforced even if no work is underway
  • Traffic enforcement is enhanced in work zones because of all the potential risks


Driving situations that a motorist may encounter as a result of the establishment of a work zone

  • Lack of shoulder and/or median areas that usually serve as safety valve areas
  • Lanes reduced in width and lanes merging and subsequently reduced in number
  • Speed regulations and changing lane patterns
  • Detours to unfamiliar routes
  • Large construction or maintenance vehicles to the side of the road that may obstruct vision
  • Highway workers standing and working near traffic along with slow moving construction vehicles
  • Drivers slow to reduce speed and/or merging at the last possible moment
  • Aggressive drivers disregarding the work zone restrictions
  • Drivers not using common sense in the work zone area
  • Some work zones are mobile, such as line painting and road patching operations. These zones move along the highway until the work is completed. Obey the signs until you have passed the ones that state you have left the work zone


Some suggestions for driving safely through a work zone

  • Diamond shaped orange warning signs are posted in advance of work zone areas, Pay attention to these signs.
  • A “flagger ahead” warning sign may be posted as you approach the work zone. Obey the flagger’s directions; a flagger has the same authority as a regulatory sign, so you can be cited for disobeying his/her directions
  • When you see flashing arrow panels, or “lane closed ahead” signs, merge as soon as possible
  • Slow down as soon as the signs tell you to. Stay calm and expect the unexpected
  • The most common crash in the highway work zone is the rear end collision, so leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you (the 3 second rule would be best)
  • Observe all posted signs until you see the one that states you have left the work zone and if you already know of the existence of a work zone, you may want to plan an alternative route

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration