Highway work zones have the potential to be more than just inconvenient – they can be deadly. And with billions of dollars being funneled into highway construction projects, experts worry that these trouble zones will become even more dangerous.
Work zone accidents have killed more than 4,700 people and injured more than 200,000 across the country in the last five years. The hazards in these areas are plentiful – improperly positioned concrete barriers, incorrect lane markings, unused warning signs, and road drop-offs just to name a few – yet there are virtually no federal laws regulating safety measures in work zones.
There are standards for work zone safety, but they differ from state to state and are loosely enforced. State governments often fight federal involvement, arguing that strict requirements would raise costs and increase liability. Furthermore, some states make it difficult for drivers to sue in the event of a car accident by passing laws that protect contractors from liability if they were following state-approved standards.
Although traffic engineers say that work zone crashes are highly preventable, transportation officials haven't focused their attention on accidents that result from contractor or highway planner error. The federal government only reviews states' work-zone safety inspections every two years and doesn't require states to share their findings. There are only 20 current state reviews on record. Each state had a violation, including inadequate or defective warning signs, missing pavement markings, and flaggers who misdirected cars.