WHAT IF YOU KNEW you could save 800 lives and it was as simple as driving slower, eliminating distractions and staying alert behind the wheel? You can and it is.
That is the message of National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), the annual spring campaign held at the start of construction season to encourage safe driving through highway work zones.
In 2019, 842 people were killed in 762 fatal crashes in work zones, including 135 roadway workers, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse.
“National Work Zone Awareness Week is meant to heighten everyone’s awareness of the need to be alert when approaching a work zone and then traveling safely through the area,” said ATSSA President & CEO Stacy Tetschner. “Everyone’s safety is at risk in these work zones, and we want everyone – workers, motorists and their passengers – to get to their destinations and home again safely.”
A push for work zone safety began in 1997 when Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) staff wanted to dedicate a week to raising awareness on work zone safety before warm weather construction projects began.
They took the idea to other DOTs and in 1998, to ATSSA officials. The following year, ATSSA approached the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which joined in launching the first official NWZAW. They developed an agreement outlining the goals for NWZAW:
• Raise awareness of the need for more caution when driving through work zones to decrease fatalities and injuries.
• Establish and promote a uniform set of safety tips.
• Promote the value of training and importance of best practices regarding work zone safety to the private sector, industry, and roadway workers.
• Reach out to roadway workers and contractors on the possible effects of motorists’ behavior in response to traffic delays and advise on steps to lessen negative behavior.
• Outreach efforts to entities involved with work zone safety to form partnerships.
The partnership has expanded to include other organizations and individuals touched by work zone safety.
The first official NWZAW kickoff event was held in 2000 in Springfield, Virginia and alternates between Washington, D.C. and other locations across the United States. State DOTs can submit applications to host the event on alternate years. This year, NWZAW was held in late April and hosted by Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Across the country, people pitched in to spread the word about this year’s theme: “Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives.”
This year’s event included a texting challenge, asking participants to type directly into a social media post without looking (but not while driving!). The attempts were unintelligible, reinforcing the danger of distracted driving.
At the NWZAW kickoff event, MDOT also hosted the National Work Zone Memorial, honoring lives lost in work zones. The memorial helps make fatalities “real” to policymakers and drivers.
“The physical size of the Memorial and the more than 1,500 names on it have an impact when people see it in person, so we encourage ATSSA members and public agencies to utilize it at their events,” ATSS Foundation Director Lori Diaz said. “The Memorial is a visible reminder of the cost of work zone incidents and helps save lives by educating motorists to drive safely in work zones.”
Hosting the memorial at an event is an easy way to support NWZAW. In 2021, the hosting fee for up to five public agencies will be covered. A virtual National Work Zone Memorial is also available for meetings and events and is free to use.
Whatever the season, work zone safety is an ATSSA priority, and it can be yours too.
ATSSA represents the roadway safety industry with effective legislative advocacy and a far-reaching member partnership. The Association leads the nation in work zone safety training and education for roadway workers across the country. Visit ATSSA.com to learn more.