As construction season ramps up, know how you drive in work zones can last FOREVER

15 April 2024- PennDOT, PA Turnpike, PSP, and Associated Pennsylvania Constructors (APC) gathered today at Soldier’s Grove to honor roadway workers and urge motorists to slow down and pay attention in work zones as part of National Work Zone Awareness Week. The week, which runs April 15-19, is designated to highlight the critical importance of safe driving through work zones. The theme of this year’s NWZAW is “Work Zones are temporary. Actions behind the wheel can last forever.”

“We are beginning another construction season,” said PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll. “This means improved roads and bridges, but it can also mean hazards for our workers. These men and women deserve to get home safely. Your choices behind the wheel can change lives forever. Please make the safe choice. Slow down and never drive distracted, especially in work zones where roadway conditions can change every day.”

The PennDOT and PA Turnpike worker memorials were on display during the event to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives while improving and maintaining Pennsylvania’s infrastructure. Since 1970, PennDOT has lost 90 workers in the line of duty. The PA Turnpike has lost 45 workers since 1940.

“Speeding through work zones has been a problem for decades,” explained PA Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey. “However, speeding and distracted driving became even more acute during the pandemic. When traffic then returned to our roadways, many motorists continued to drive at high rates of speed, often distractedly darting through work zones with workers mere inches away from live traffic.

“All the organizations represented here today work together on numerous initiatives to reenforce safe-driving behaviors which can make the difference between life and death for our workers as well as drivers.”

According to preliminary PennDOT data, in 2023 there were 1,216 work zone crashes, resulting in 22 fatalities.

“Everyone should do their part to ensure the safety of highway workers,” said Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Christopher Paris. “Obey posted speed limits and signage, eliminate distractions, maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, and never drive under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.”

Earlier this year, the agencies began enforcement of the statewide Work Zone Speed Safety Camera program. Previously referred to as Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement, the initial five-year pilot program was made permanent by Act 38 of 2023. The program uses vehicle-mounted systems to detect and record motorists exceeding posted work zone speed limits by 11 miles per hour or more using electronic speed timing devices. Cameras are only operational in active work zones where workers are present. Work Zones that have speed safety cameras present and active will have unique, high-visibility signs in advance of the enforcement area, alerting drivers to the upcoming enforcement. Registered owners receive a warning letter for a first offense, a violation notice and $75 fine for a second offense, and a violation notice and $150 fine for third and subsequent offenses. These violations are civil penalties only; no points are assessed to driver’s licenses.

To help reduce risk, flagging contractors deploy Automated Flagger Assistance Devices (AFAD) sometimes. These devices have an 8-foot gate arm, stop and caution lights, and are controlled by an off-road flagger. To keep drivers and workers safe, make sure to follow the DOs and DON’Ts when encountering an AFAD in a work zone.

What to do when you encounter an AFAD:

  • Approach with caution
  • Obey all advanced warning signs and stop where directed
  • Remain stopped until all oncoming traffic has passed and the AFAD’s 8ft arm has lifted and the traffic signal changes to yellow to “proceed with caution”

What not to do when you encounter an AFAD:

  • DO NOT drive around AFAD arm until signaled, even if oncoming traffic has passed
  • DO NOT distract yourself with your phone or other devices while stopped
  • DO NOT stop too closely or contact the AFAD – a high-decibel alarm will sound

Under the permanent program, there is a 15-day warning period beginning on the mail date of the first violation. If a driver is caught speeding through a work zone by Work Zone Speed Safety Cameras, they will not receive a second violation until 15 days after the mail date of their first violation. This allows time for the warning to be delivered to the motorist to ensure they are aware of the program and change their driving behavior. Once the 15-day warning period has ended, multiple violations can be received on consecutive days, and even on the same day.

Results show the Work Zone Speed Safety Cameras program is meeting its goals of reducing work zone speeds, changing driver behavior, and improving work zone safety for both workers and motorists. Over the course of the five years of the pilot program’s operation, there was a 38% reduction in speeding in work zones (1 mph or more over the speed limit), a 47% reduction in excessive speeding in work zones (11 mph or more over the speed limit), and work zone crashes declined by up to 50% when a speed enforcement vehicle was present.