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Road Work Crews Need to Be Protected : * Drivers Can Help by Slowing Down and Staying Alert

A month ago on the Orange Freeway in Fullerton, the victim was Hugo Milton Sandoval, 36, of Los Angeles. Two other workers jumped out of the way in the nick of time as a car barreled into the construction area past the orange cones and blinking warning lights. Sandoval wasn’t as lucky. Only the night before, two construction workers had been killed on the Long Beach Freeway. In both incidents, the drivers were believed to have been drinking.

In the last five years, 10 accidents have claimed the lives of 12 freeway construction workers in California. More must be done to protect these workers, especially as repair and construction schedules enter their peak summer season, and during Orange County’s ambitious freeway reconstruction work.

Even before the recent spate of accidents, a task force of agencies has been pondering ways to make freeways safer for construction workers. Included in the discussions have been the California Department of Transportation, construction unions, state employee groups and the California Highway Patrol, among others. On the table is one proposal that would add 24,000 hours of patrol time to construction zones, which during peak seasons affect 15% to 20% of California’s 15,000 miles of highways. Added patrols would be costly: about $1.5 million a year. But the CHP says that the mere presence of patrol cars dramatically slows down traffic. Any increase makes good sense.

Other measures would increase the number of changeable message signs, put reflective striping on contractors’ vehicles and improve the reflective materials used on construction warning signs. Also under consideration are reduced speed zones in construction areas, which might require altering some state statutes. All are good ideas.

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But even these efforts seem paltry considering the dangers highway workers face, especially at night when most construction work is done. As the night deepens, more and more drivers are sleepy or have been drinking. Yes, workers would be safer during daytime hours, but closing down lanes at night, when traffic levels are lower, doesn’t invoke the kind of driver hostility that makes politicians nervous. Night work is favored.

That means, however, that drivers also must do their part. They must stay sober, awake and cautious as they approach construction zones, especially when visibility is low. They must slow down. The safety of the workers making the highways safer and more accessible must be paramount.


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