The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), Rhode Island State Police, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and representatives of organized labor across Rhode Island gathered today to urge motorists to drive safely in work zones as the 2017 road construction season gets underway.
National Work Zone Awareness Week coincides with the beginning of construction season in Rhode Island each year. The theme for this year's recognition week is "Work Zone Safety is in Your Hands," a constant reminder to motorists of the important role they play in keeping highway workers safe from injury or death.
This year's construction season is expected to be one of the busiest in years. RIDOT alone will put over $200 million worth of construction work on the streets this year, thanks to the RhodeWorks program.
"We're intensely focused on safety, and I ask everyone to be vigilant behind the wheel and protect the men and women working hard out there to fix our roads and bridges," RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. "Reduce your speed in work zones, avoid distraction, and never drive impaired."
Across the country, about 700 people die each year in work-zone related accidents and more than 35,000 injuries are reported. About 80 percent of those killed are not the workers on the road, but the driver or occupant of the vehicle causing the crash. Across the country, the economic impact to the engineering and construction industries from injuries and fatalities is about $3.5 billion.
"FHWA as a safety agency is dedicated to saving lives, and is dedicated to reducing congestion and crashes due to work zones," FHWA Rhode Island Division Administrator Carlos C. Machado said. "The highway is a workplace for thousands of men and women, and we're asking Rhode Island drivers to remember that."
In 2008, Rhode Island passed the "move over" law, which requires drivers to move over a lane when approaching a first responder stopped on the road. In 2014, the law was expanded to include other types of workers, including construction and highway maintenance workers. Even if drivers can't change lanes when approaching workers or first responders, the law requires them to slow down and leave as much space as possible between their vehicle and the stopped vehicles.
"Law enforcement officers assigned to work zones are there to protect the construction workers, and they will enforce the state's "move over" law to do so," Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police said. "If everyone exercises caution in work zones, we can provide a safe environment for construction workers as well as motorists."
"Our goal is that every tradesman or woman returns home from a day's work the same way they arrived that morning," said Michael F. Sabitoni, Business Manager, Rhode Island Laborers' District Council and President of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council. "The safety of our members is paramount, especially in hazardous work zones, where statistics show that Laborers, by far, represent the largest number of work zone injuries and fatalities on highway projects throughout the country. It is a significant and extremely serious issue for us in the construction industry. This campaign among our partners will help save lives by urging motorists to pay special attention to work zone warning signs, flaggers, and law enforcement, abiding by the basic steps that prevent crashes while people are diligently working at all hours of the day and night to fix and maintain Rhode Island's infrastructure."
RIDOT offers the following suggestions for motorists as they encounter more construction vehicles and workers in the coming weeks and months:
Slow Down: Speeding is one of the major causes of work zone crashes.
Read the Signs: Signage and flashing arrows are used to guide you and other drivers to move safely through the work zone.
Don't be Distracted: Don't engage in distracting activities, especially the use of electronic devices.
Merge when Directed: Don't drive right up to the lane closure and then try merging in.
Expect Delays: Leave early so you can reach your destination on time.
Be Patient; Stay Calm: Remember that work zones are not set up to inconvenience motorists. They are a necessary part of operations to improve our network of roads and bridges.
RIDOT makes every effort to alert the public about planned work zones for construction and maintenance activities and posts them on its website at www.ridot.net/traveladvisories. Additional information may be found on RIDOT's Twitter and Facebook sites. Daily and weekly traffic forecasts also are sent to all Rhode Island media and traffic reporting services, and are published each Saturday in the Providence Journal.