A Pew report says work zone crashes and fatalities have increased in some states during the COVID-19 pandemic despite reduced traffic.
Highway safety and transportation officials say road workers’ jobs are more dangerous than ever as drivers speed through work zones or are distracted by their phones.
“Speeding has really come to the forefront during COVID. People are going much too fast,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association. “In work zones, that’s the worst thing we can have happen.”
“If you’re patching a pothole or doing a pavement repair, the only thing between you and traffic coming at 80 miles an hour may be a traffic cone,” said Becky Allmeroth of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “If you have one driver distracted by their cellphone, it’s fatal.”
Vehicles struck a state contractor and three county employees in the same week in September in Michigan, killing two.
“Last year, there were three worker fatalities, total. To have two fatalities and four hits within a week is very alarming,” said Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Courtney Bates. “It’s crazy.”
The report states that while only 18 people were killed in work zone crashes in Missouri in 2019, 23 have died in just the first nine months of 2020 despite a reduction in traffic caused by COVID-19.
Many highway patrol officials across the country have noted that the emptier roads seen during the COVID-19 pandemic have encouraged and led to an increase in speeding, including cases of speeding involving speeds of over 100 mph. A motorist was clocked at 187 mph in North Carolina in September.
A car speeding through a work zone struck and killed a 59-year-old construction worker in McLean County, Illinois on June 9, according to the report.
The report says that Ohio has seen 14 fatal work zone crashes so far this year, compared to nine this time last year, and almost two dozen state workers in Ohio have been struck since mid-February.
“People are driving faster. They’re not paying attention. That’s why we’re seeing what we’re seeing,” said Ohio DOT spokesperson Matt Bruning. “You’d think with fewer people on the roads things would be safer. But there are more severe crashes. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.”
Multiple car crashes occurred in a work zone in Cabazon, CA near Palm Desert in July. Two vehicles smashed into temporary construction barriers, and Caltrans responded by warning motorists to reduce their speed in the work zone.