April brings consistently warmer weather and the start of the road construction season, which unfortunately also annually marks an uptick in fatal traffic work zone accidents.
April 26-30 is National Work Zone Awareness Week, an annual effort to protect the lives of workers and other innocent victims of roadway construction crashes. According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, the major causes of catastrophic work zone crashes are:
· Inattentive or distracted driving
· Following too closely
· Improper lance usage
· Driving too fast for conditions
· Failure to yield
In 2012 the Missouri legislature passed the “Slow Down and Move Over” law, which requires drivers to slow down and change lanes, if possible, when approaching police cars, emergency vehicles and MoDOT vehicles that have their lights flashing and parked on the shoulder of the road. A similar, if not heightened, caution is called for when approaching construction work zones in Missouri.
According to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, an organization whose mission is to protect workers, motorists and pedestrians from work zone accidents, Missouri experienced 13 fatal work zone crashes and 19 deaths in 2019. Both represent an upward movement from the previous three-year trend.
Upward Spike in Fatal Work Zone Accidents
Missouri’s alarming trend is not an exception. The same work zone safety organization reports that nationally in 2019 there were:
· 762 fatal work zone crashes – previous three-year average was 693
· 842 people killed in work zone crashes – previous three-year average was 783
· 133 pedestrians killed in work zone crashes – previous three-year average was 121
· 135 construction workers killed in work zone crashes – previous three-year average was 133
It’s not hard to understand that large commercial trucks are a major factor in fatal work zone crashes. Inattentive truck drivers hauling big rigs that weigh as much as 80,000 pounds can barrel into work zones causing multi-vehicle crashes with catastrophic results.
Fatal Work Zone Crashes Involving Big Rigs
And the numbers bear this out. In 2019 there were:
· 247 fatal work zone crashes involving tractor-trailers – previous three-year average was 207
· 288 people killed in work zone crashes involving semi-trucks – previous three-year average was 247
Going back to 2010 there were 117 fatal work zone accidents with 136 work zone crash deaths, so the upward trend in both is not only consistent but dramatic.
This trend is also now a stated concern with the federal agency that oversees the safety of the commercial trucking and motorcoach industries.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cited the growing number of fatal commercial truck accidents, including work zone crashes and work zone deaths, during its 20th annual Analysis, Research and Technology Forum in March.
Careless Truck Driver Behavior
The careless truck driver behaviors FMCSA pinpointed for fatal tractor-trailer accidents included:
· Cell phone use and texting
· Distracted truckers
· Unsafe driving speeds
· Drug and alcohol impairment
While FMCSA cited these factors in the broad category of fatal commercial truck crashes, they all can pose catastrophic dangers when truckers are specifically approaching highway work zones.
So what can be done to prevent fatal construction accidents involving 18-wheelers?
Truckers are already banned from using hand-held cell phones, so they should be adhering to this federal law. Traveling the appropriate speed, following federal Hours of Service rules to avoid fatigue, and abstaining from alcohol and drugs while driving are all behaviors expected of commercial truck drivers.
A more widely accepted use of technology may also help lower the number of catastrophic truck crashes. Last year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported its own research found specific technology – forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems – reduce large truck crashes. Big rigs with the former had 22% fewer wrecks while trucks equipped with AEB had 12% fewer accidents.
The IIHSA said equipping trucks with both could reduce two out every five crashes when a commercial truck rear-ends another vehicle – the likely scenario in work zone accidents.
Despite known factors that can cause fatal crashes, the trucking industry is doing little to slow down the rise in truck crash deaths, evidenced by the trends going back years.
If you lost a family member or you were seriously injured in a crash with a commercial truck, speak with a personal injury attorney who has experience in holding trucking companies responsible for their negligent behavior.
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.
Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles April 12, 2021