Caution in work zones

Barreling down the highway at 70 miles per hour — or faster — is standard on the nation’s interstate highways. But as most of us have experienced, bottlenecks on down the road often back up traffic quickly, and suddenly a motorist can find himself approaching a sea of red brake lights.

Will he be able to stop in time?

Thousands of motorists stuck in traffic during rush hour Thursday evening in Huntington found out what can happen if a motorist in or approaching a construction zone isn’t on full alert.

According to police, a dump truck carrying gravel on Interstate 64 could not stop quickly enough when he came upon traffic that had slowed down, possibly because of construction near Kenova. It hit the car in front of it, triggering a chain reaction. The crash involved the dump truck, a diesel truck and seven passenger vehicles. Three vehicles and the dump truck ended up sandwiched between the barriers of a bridge on I-64.

As it turned out, no one was killed and only two people suffered minor injuries. Based on the smashed-in appearance of some of the vehicles involved, the occupants were lucky.

All too often, however, accidents in or near construction zones don’t have such fortunate outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 600 people died in construction-zone crashes in 2012 across the nation, with highway workers accounting for more than 100 of those deaths.

In addition, more than 35,000 injuries were reported in connection with construction zone collisions, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

It shouldn’t be surprising that such a toll occurs. On interstate highways in particular, motorists generally are traveling at higher rates of speed to start with, and the variation in speeds due to lower limits in construction zones adds to the risks. Lane closures often cause bottlenecks, which means traffic can be brought to a stop. Unusual traffic patterns also can pose problems, even for motorists who may be familiar with the area.

The plea to motorists is that they avoid becoming lackadaisical while traveling smoothly along, because the complications from a construction zone can pop up even before they come across signs warning of construction. Otherwise, when alerted to construction zones ahead, drivers should be fully prepared to slow down and stop quickly, if necessary. Even if no construction zone exists, motorists should use extra caution in urban areas with multiple exits because traffic that enters or exits will be moving at many different speeds.

Thursday’s accident also should be a reminder to police agencies that strict enforcement and monitoring in construction zones is important to the safety of motorists as well as construction workers.

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia

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