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posted: 4/19/2010 12:01 AM

Be alert and keep work zones safe

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Two-hour trips on the Eisenhower Expressway. Lane closures on I-355. Construction on roads that otherwise might be used as alternates from both of those projects.

It's enough to see red. But the Illinois Department of Transportation wants you to see orange.

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That is, See Orange (construction signs), Slow Down and Save Lives.

We've detailed in the last couple weeks how horrible it is right now to get around. And with the spring construction season just under way, it will likely only get worse before it gets better.

So when you are sitting in traffic on the Ike - or, when you actually have a chance to move - or you are on a local road like Route 45 in Lake County or Roosevelt Road in DuPage County - take a deep breath and remember that the workers alongside you are not the enemy.

In fact, you should remember these 10 tips on your drive to or from work this week as a way to mark National Work Zone Awareness Week:

Expect the unexpected;

Slow down;

Keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the work zone crew members and equipment;

Pay attention to the signs;

Obey road crew flaggers;

Stay alert and minimize distractions;

Keep up with traffic flow;

Schedule enough time to drive safely and check on traffic information before you leave;

Be patient and stay calm - work zones aren't there to personally inconvenience you.

Illinois drivers also should be aware that a new law is now in effect that makes it illegal to talk on a cell phone while traveling through a highway construction zone.

Illinois has made construction zone safety a priority since 2003 when five workers were among the 44 highway work zone fatalities in the state. Since then, Illinois averages about 29 fatalities and an average of two worker fatalities among them.

The drop in deaths follow a national trend of lower highway fatalities throughout the country. The Associated Press reported last month a 9 percent drop in fatalities overall in 2009 to 33,963, the lowest total since 1954.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration credits the decline to more people wearing seat belts, programs to discourage drunken driving and cars built with better safety features. However, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says distracted driving remains a big issue.

"There are still far too many people dying in traffic accidents," LaHood said. "Drivers need to keep their hands on the steering wheel and the focus on the road in order to stay safe."

Local and state police also have made it a priority to keep roads safe and drivers aware. Consider yourself warned.

"We identify the areas we need to work and put our assets there," state police District 2 Lt. Todd Rohlwing said while noting a decline in fatalities in his suburban district in 2009.

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