Let’s be careful out there

By Pete Grass, P.E., CAE
Asphalt Institute President

Memorial Day signals PeteGrass_web_2014the official start of the summer driving season in the U.S. and watch out, here comes the traffic. Lots of factors for that, and I suspect this year we’ll see record increases in miles driven – particularly during the summer vacation period in America.

We’ve just heard that air traffic is at an all-time high and airlines are again enjoying nice margins. Increased travel due to lower airfares all made possible by reduced legacy costs and lower fuel prices worked hand in glove to revitalize that industry. Automobiles and trucks are enjoying the low fuel prices too and if you’ve made a road trip lately you’ve seen it’s crowded.

I’ve had several trips late winter – at least in our region of the country. St. Louis, Nashville, Indianapolis and Washington D.C. are all close enough that it is sometimes more efficient to just go by car. I did, and I had lots of company. We’re driving more miles than ever.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety we drive an average of 29.2 miles per day or 10,658 miles per year. That number is increasing thanks to a larger number of vehicles on the road and reduced fuel costs.

Our industry needs to take note of this – especially this summer. Here’s why. The Federal Highway Administration has been collecting work zone accident data thanks to the Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule (23 CFR 630 Subpart J) and the results are mixed. For our workers in these work zones, it isn’t a great story, as no sustained downward trend in fatalities exists. Most deaths occur during the week and not surprisingly, during the heavy summer traffic season.

It’s not just construction workers who are at risk here. Nearly five times as many drivers and passengers are killed as workers in work zones adding to the problem. Getting the message out is something our industry has been working on for a long time with limited success.

When the data is normalized by reporting fatalities per billion-dollars of construction, we see a large variance between states – meaning I believe that some states are better at work zone safety than others. Yet, we all can do better.

What will your state’s accident and fatality rate look like this year? We need to help ensure that the standard markings are consistently used, speed limits enforced and awareness elevated through a variety of means. Distracted driving has no place on our highways, much less in a work zone. The ripple impact of any accident to the individuals, family and friends is large by any measure. Let’s be careful out there.