Editorial: Safety first when driving through road construction zones
A sure sign of spring are the dandelions popping up on lawns and the road construction projects sprouting throughout the region.
Yes, roadwork is in full bloom and the resurfacing and reconstruction will heat up with warming weather.
It's a season that brings a good measure of frustration and confusion for drivers. Detours, lane closures and shifting traffic patterns test the patience of anyone trying to get from Point A to Point B. And, therein lies a problem, because a momentary distraction, wandering concentration, a flash of anger could have tragic consequences, especially for front-line construction workers who have only hard hats, colored vests and flaggers as protection.
Last week, state transportation officials marked National Work Zone Awareness Week by asking the public to "Drive safe. Work safe. Save lives." More than a motto, the initiative urges everyone to be alert in construction zones.
In 2021, drivers will face many challenges. They range from local street resurfacing on Arlington Heights Road and reconstruction of a portion of Lake-Cook Road to more disruptive projects, such as the massive Central Tri-State Tollway rebuild and Kennedy Expressway improvements between Harlem Avenue and Interstate 190.
Don't assume because more people work from home and capacity and other COVID-19 restrictions are in place at many popular entertainment venues that there will be less traffic on the road and you'll slice through work zones. It won't be that easy.
The number of construction zone accidents is worrisome. State officials said that each year, an average of more than 6,400 motor vehicle crashes occur in Illinois work zones, resulting in more than 1,700 injuries. In 2020, 37 people died in work zones in the state, including two workers.
Much as drivers often need to relearn how to drive in snow and ice, they also need to consider how to properly navigate work zones.
Here are some guidelines state transportation officials say drivers must follow:
• Don't use phones or electronic devices that can take away from your driving concentration;
• Look for and obey signs in place to help navigate construction zones;
• Slow down and drive at the posted speed limit to keep workers and drivers safe;
• Watch for slowed or stopped traffic;
• Remember that heavy equipment, trucks and commercial vehicles need extra distance to come to a complete stop behind you.
Above all, plan ahead to leave extra time to get through construction zones, or better yet, avoid them altogether if possible. Who needs the headache?
But the best thing to pack is a healthy dose of patience -- for your time, for other drivers who might not be as courteous and for construction workers who want nothing more at the end of the day than to go home to their families.