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Stay safe while driving through a highway construction zone

Highway maintenance and rebuilding projects can be a nuisance to drivers. However, it is more important to think of the consequences if you do not take adequate safety precautions while passing through a construction zone.

Thousands of accidents occur in construction zones, causing the deaths of construction workers. Many times it is motorists and passengers who are injured or killed. We can all help to keep construction zones safer.

Use caution when driving in work zones

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that about 40,000 people are injured and more than 800 people are killed each year in automobile accidents in highway work zones. While construction zones are hazardous for construction and highway workers, 85 percent of the fatalities are automobile drivers and their passengers. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of construction zone crash.

The DOT’s Federal Highway Administration offers these work zone safety tips:

Obey signs
The construction crew will usually post plenty of signs, cones and concrete barriers to give motorists have sufficient warning and adequate direction as they approach a construction zone. Watch for detours, closed lanes or temporary roadways that abruptly jog left or right.

Obey posted speed limits
There will typically be reduced speed limits in an active construction zone. Since 2009, Maryland has used automated cameras in work zones to ticket speeders. The Maryland SafeZones program has reduced the number of work zone crashes and fatalities. Yet hundreds of construction zone accidents still occur every year because motorists are (a) exceeding the posted limit or (b) driving too fast for rainy, foggy or icy conditions.

Stay focused
Once you near a construction zone, eliminate all distractions and concentrate on the road ahead. Per Maryland law, you should not be using a handheld device while driving, but definitely do not talk or text on a cellphone while navigating a work zone. Two hands on the wheel, eyes scanning the roadway.

Watch for hazardous materials
A highway construction project stirs up dust and dirt, so your visibility might be temporarily impaired. You should also be on the lookout for objects that might have found their way onto the highway, such as globs of cement, knocked-over barrels, or other construction debris.

Watch for trucks and heavy equipment
A large highway construction project involves cranes, graders, dump trucks, utility trucks, vans and other large vehicles. There is much activity in terms of going forward and backing up. Trucks leave and enter the highway at intervals, and although the drivers are usually alert to the possibility of an accident, these vehicles pose a danger, simply because they are large, heavy and often in a state of motion. Be especially wary when following a truck through a work zone, because you can’t see what’s ahead.

Getting used to it

Drivers can expect more of this kind of work if the state or federal government implements enhanced infrastructure planning. As a driver, you should take such projects in stride and remain alert.

Allow extra time to drive through a construction zone. Driving 45 instead of 65 only takes an additional 25 seconds per mile – adding barely four minutes to a 10-mile drive.

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