As part of an effort to raise awareness of the importance of alert driving in work zones, two workers in the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) Highway and Bridge Maintenance section shared their story of being injured in a work zone last year.
The men work in RIDOT’s bridge maintenance division, a team that handles a variety of jobs including routine and emergency repairs.
The week of April 7 to 11 was National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. More than 1,000 fatalities occur in work zones across the United States each year, a number that has risen 45 percent in the past 10 years. Statistics show that 85 percent of those killed in work zone accidents are drivers or occupants. Additionally, more than 40,000 people nationwide are injured each year in work zone accidents.
“Driver distraction, careless driving habits, and excessive speeds in work zones can be a deadly combination,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said.
“Whenever motorists see signs, cones and flashing lights marking a work zone, they should immediately reduce speed and refocus their attention to the situation in front of them. Literally, lives are at stake in those situations.”
A routine pothole patching operation was the task Superintendent Angelo Baldinelli and Supervisor Chester De Witt were leading on Dec. 4, 2007, when their vehicle was hit on I-195 in Providence. The crew was using a moving operation to fill potholes on highways in Providence, and was nearing the end of its work on I-195 West near Wickenden Street when the crash occurred. Instead of returning to RIDOT’s maintenance headquarters in Warwick, Baldinelli and De Witt were riding in ambulances on the way to Rhode Island Hospital.
Baldinelli and De Witt were in the lead vehicle of a four-vehicle operation that had taken up the high speed and center lane of the highway. They had just gotten back into their Ford F150, and before they had a chance to put their seat belts on, before they had a chance to even see what was coming at them, they were rear-ended. The driver had accelerated past another RIDOT truck, and thinking he was ahead of the last vehicle in the operation, cut left and drove into the back of the pick-up truck. The force of the impact lifted the truck up on two wheels and drove it into the Jersey barrier. Baldinelli and De Witt were violently tossed about the inside of the truck. Had the accident occurred just a few moments earlier, both men said they likely would have been critically injured or killed.
“It happened so fast,” De Witt said. “All I had time to do was turn the wheel and look in the mirror before the impact.”
“You never know what could have happened,” Baldinelli said. “We could have been thrown into traffic or something worse.”
Fortunately for Baldinelli and De Witt, they were not seriously injured, but they were out of work for several weeks. In light of National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, they urged that people reconsider their driving habits, especially when encountering a work zone. “People need to understand that if we are out there, it is for a reason,” Baldinelli said. “When you see those flashing lights from a work crew, a police officer or a tow truck, they are there to warn you to slow down and drive carefully.”
“Making work zones safer is a top priority of the New England Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund,” noted Fund Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni, who also serves as general secretary, treasurer and New England regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). Both Baldinelli and De Witt are members of LIUNA Local 1033.
“Our goal is to have all motorists drive through work zones as if a member of their family is performing the work being done,” Sabitoni added. “We ask the motoring public to please adhere to the posted speed limits when traveling through work zones.”
RIDOT makes every effort to alert the public about planned work zones for construction and maintenance activities and posts them on its Web site at www.tmc.dot.rigov/traveladvisories.asp.
Weekly traffic forecasts also are sent to all Rhode Island media and traffic reporting services. Just recently, the weekly traffic forecast began running in the Providence Sunday Journal.
Motorists, however, need to be prepared for unplanned work zones as well. RIDOT responds to reports for potholes, debris in the roads, and other urgent matters that require immediate attention. RIDOT uses highway message boards, its Highway Advisory Radio system (1630 AM), and 511 to relay this type of information.
RIDOT offers the following tips for safe driving in a work zone:
• 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 engage in distracting activities: Dedicate your full attention to the roadway and avoid changing radio stations or using a cell phone while driving in a work zone.
• Merge as soon as possible: 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 and stay calm: Remember that work zones are not established to personally inconvenience you.