With the spring road construction season now under way, departments of transportation and industry partners are observing their annual "National Work Zone Awareness Week" during April 9-13 to emphasize safety by motorists driving through work zones where sometimes only plastic cones or barrels separate road crews from moving vehicles.
But tragedy has already struck this year for two state DOTs that lost employees in work zone crashes.
"The construction season is just beginning, yet already in 2018 we're mourning the deaths of two state department of transportation employees struck and killed in highway work zone crashes in Colorado and Ohio," said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "We know these tragic deaths can be prevented if drivers slow down, keep their eyes on the road and follow instructions."
When a veteran Colorado DOT employee died Feb. 11 after being struck by a passing vehicle Feb. 2 while filling potholes on US 160 in Pagosa Springs, CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis both praised the employee, Nolan Olson, and highlighted the safety issues raised by his death.
Lewis said Olson "was the type of person who would not have wanted his loss to have gone without shining a spotlight on the risks that our crews take every day when they go out on the roads to serve the public."
He also emphasized the responsibility of the driving public to watch out for roadway workers. "Not only do I want the public to understand the type of man that Nolan was," Lewis said, "I also want the public to know and understand the care needed when driving on our highways. A driver's undivided attention to the road will ensure we are able to come home to our families."
In Ohio, a state DOT newsletter said employee John Pasko was struck and killed March 15 "while he was performing a brush-clearing operation." It said Pasko "was a hard-working public servant and was well-respected by his coworkers."
A news report said Pasko was working on Interstate 680 in Youngstown when a car veered into the work zone and struck him.
Nationwide, the American Traffic Safety Services Association said that in 2015 – the last year for which information is available – the Fatality Analysis Report System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 700 work zone fatalities and 35,526 injuries.
And it said the FARS data showed that in four out of five work zone crashes, the drivers and their passengers were those killed in the crash.
This year's official kickoff event for the awareness week is scheduled for April 10 in Chicago, hosted by the Illinois DOT, the ATSSA said. Slated speakers include Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Christine Nichols, widow of Ryan Nichols who was killed in an Illinois work zone crash in 2011.
Across the nation, DOTs and other groups will hold various events to mark the week and try to boost public awareness about the risks of moving through work zones and safety measures for drivers to practice to avoid crashes, injuries and deaths.
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