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You may want to get through a construction zone as quickly as possible, but everyone’s number one suggestion for making it through as safely as possible is to slow down.
"When I’m on the road," says Chris Marlow, "I worry about people who are going too fast. Those orange barrels are just too close to where we’re driving."
Marlow’s seen a lot of orange barrels and witnessed plenty of people making poor decisions. He’s a service adviser at Hyundai Greenfield, but before that, he logged a quarter of a million miles working as a medical delivery driver.
The biggest threat to safety in construction zones, he says, is speed, and myriad experts agree with him.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 4,400 people have died and 200,000 people have been injured in construction-zone crashes in the past five years alone. Rear-enders are the most common type of collision, and the people most likely to die are drivers.
And for what? The department notes that it takes 17 seconds longer to travel one mile at 45 mph than at 60. So having to traverse even a 10-mile-long work zone at reduced speed may add no more than three minutes to your trip.
As you might suspect, the agency also says that most construction-related crashes occur in summer. Wet pavement, cell phone use and tailgating are, along with driving too fast, among the most common factors.
With all that in mind, here are a few recommendations from the DOT for keeping safe when encountering orange barrels.
- Minimize distractions. Stay off the phone, leave the radio alone, put down your drinks and snacks, and don’t fret if the kids in the back seats are having a spat. In short, "dedicate your full attention to the roadway."
- Watch brake lights on vehicles ahead.
- Maintain a safe distance between vehicles. That could vary from four car lengths at 25 mph to 20 car lengths at 55.
- Obey the posted speed limit. It’s not just a suggestion; construction zone speed limits are the law.
- Watch out for workers, vehicles and equipment. Only a few feet may separate workers from traffic, while trucks may enter or exit the site from behind barrels and markers.
- Change lanes cautiously. Follow pavement markings that direct the flow of traffic. Solid lines mean lane changes are forbidden – and disregarding them can lead to getting a ticket. The trucking company Schneider instructs its drivers to begin signaling at least three seconds before moving over.
- Merge well before you reach lane closures. Schneider notes on its website that "if you’re going 60 and you pass a sign that says Road Work 1,500 feet, you’ll be in that work zone in 17 seconds." Warning against "zooming right up to the lane closure and then trying to barge in," the firm suggests looking to merge as soon as you can after seeing a lane-closed sign or flashing arrows. "If everyone cooperates," its website says, "traffic moves more efficiently."
- Stay calm. If someone tailgates you or comes up in your lane going fast, Marlow recommends doing what you can "to take yourself out of the scenario." That might mean changing lanes before the charging vehicle reaches you or, if there’s no room, staying in the lane you’re in and letting the speeder go around. "If they’re going to be crazy," he says, "let them do their thing."
- Know the signs. Signs are usually yellow or orange with black lettering and can be diamond-shaped, square, rectangular or triangular. For illustrations and definitions, go to https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/resources/fhwasa03012/