Will a Highway Worker Be Struck and Killed Today?

Wed May 21, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson



The highway building and repair season is upon us, which means it is time for construction workers to start worrying if today is the day they will be struck down by a passing vehicle. In early May, that day arrived for an Alabama worker when a car crashed past cones and barrels to reach him.

Construction is a dangerous work. Construction sites alongside moving traffic are as treacherous as any other site, with creeping machines laying steaming asphalt, cranes lifting steel bridge components, and trucks backing.

It is the added element of traffic passing next to the work site that ratchets up the danger. According to an Associated General Contractors survey, 45 percent of highway contractors reported that cars and trucks plowed into their work crews in 2013.

In other words, nearly one of every two highway work zones is invaded by a wayward vehicle in the course of a working season. More often than not, it is the occupants of the vehicles who are hurt or killed in these incidents, but 20 percent of the time it is the men or women in hardhats.

Why does this happen? Probably a certain percentage of drivers—the oldest and youngest—are not very good at steering and maintaining control of their vehicles in close quarters. Such people undoubtedly get nervous as lanes are squeezed. Others may stray into a coned-off area because they are talking—or texting!—while they are passing the zones. There should be a special level of punishment for them.

What can be done? Not much. That is the sorry truth. More severe penalties assessed, perhaps. Slower speeds designated, maybe. More barriers employed to separate workers from lines of traffic, possibly. More safety training? Probably not. If a hurtling car invades a work space, artful dodging is the only recourse and that can’t be taught.

The fact is, the dangerous work must go on—actually, there needs to be much more of it to repair our deteriorating infrastructure—traffic needs to keep flowing around it, and a worker has a good chance of being struck down today.