The Dangers of Speeding in Construction Zones

May 10, 2018

Orange barrels and flashing signs should help drivers recognize when they’re entering a construction zone. Yet, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation workers, many drivers either fail to notice these alerts or ignore them. This can lead to serious harm, such as a brain injury.

Construction zones have lower speed limits, and for good reason. Traffic lanes may be narrower than usual in construction zones, and traffic patterns may change temporarily during construction. A speeding driver may not have time to react to unexpected changes, which could raise the risk of a crash. Any crash in a construction zone puts workers at risk of injury, but drivers and passengers account for 85 percent of work zone fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Work Zone Crashes

In York County, just south of Harrisburg, more than 200 construction zone crashes occurred between 2012 and 2016, injuring nearly 150 people and killing one worker. PennDOT employees told the York Daily Record that drivers routinely speed through work zones. One driver had even driven around a “road closed” sign and nearly plummeted into a 5-foot-deep trench, but the workers screamed warnings at the driver, and he stopped just short of the trench.

Crash Trends

The FHWA reports that work zone crashes nationwide increased by 42 percent from 2013 to 2015. Of the 607 fatal work zone crashes that occurred in 2014, speeding was a factor in 172 crashes; other causes were alcohol impairment (25 percent) and lack of seatbelt use (25) percent.

To further demonstrate why drivers need to reduce speed in construction zones, of the fatal crashes in 2013, 41 percent were rear-end collisions. Traffic jams in work zones are common, and a speeding driver runs the risk of rear-ending a stopped vehicle.

PennDOT data shows that in 2016, roadway fatalities were the second-lowest since the department began tracking fatal crashes in 1935. Rear-end crashes accounted for 22.8 percent of total crashes and 83 fatalities. In 2,075 work-zone crashes, two workers and 14 travelers were killed and 1,273 people were injured. The majority of work-zone crashes occurred on state highways and interstates.

Increased Enforcement

In late January, the Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill that would allow speed cameras to be installed in highway work zones. If enacted, this legislation would result in $100 fines for drivers who exceed a work-zone speed limit by 11 mph or more (but unlike speeding tickets, the fine would not result in points on a driver’s license). Opponents of the legislation say it’s a money-making scheme, but supporters say it may be the only way to reduce the rate of work-zone crashes.

Police don’t have the ability to catch every driver who speeds through a work zone, so traffic cameras could definitely be helpful in penalizing drivers for their reckless behavior. Maryland instituted a similar program in 2009 and found that work-zone speeding fines decreased, which indicates the cameras were working as a deterrent.