Editorial: Take highway work-zone safety seriously

In early spring, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois Tollway issued the standard yearly plea for motorists to be on their best behavior in construction zones.

The numbers are arresting: According to the tollway, nearly 5,000 crashes in Illinois work zones every year. In 2016, 37 of them resulted in 44 deaths. The Federal Highway Administration says that in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a work zone crash occurred once almost every five minutes, 70 work zone crashes occur every day and, every week, 12 of those crashes result in at least one death. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says more than 120 workers are killed a year in road construction accidents, the overwhelming number of those deaths a result of being struck by vehicles.

We got a sad and vivid reminder this week that the dangers are just as real for road workers at the end of the road construction season as at the beginning. David M. Schwarz, of Monee, died after he was struck Monday by a hit-and-run semitrailer as he moved debris off the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) in Alsip.

In an April story about the IDOT and the tollway's cautions, our transportation writer Marni Pyke introduced us to another worker who has twice narrowly escaped injury or death at a work sites on the tollway.

"It's intense out there, and people don't get it," Maria Gonzalez told Pyke. "They're driving 70 miles an hour. They're coming close to you. They're on the phone. They're texting."

Work zone speed limits are typically 45 miles an hour, but no one who drives the tollway would dispute Gonzalez' 70 mph claim. It's all too evident that even with the threats of higher fines and stricter enforcement, drivers can have an almost cavalier attitude toward navigating the changed traffic patterns, uneven pavement, rough surfaces and even sudden stops that can come with highway work zones.

It shouldn't take a death to get our attention and prompt us to put safety first when we're driving through construction zones - or anywhere on the highway for that matter. But two kids in Monee who are suddenly without a father are an admonition to all of us to take more care on the highway, especially in work zones, whatever the time of year.

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