How Do We Deal with Distracted Driving in Work Zones?

Crashes in work zones continue to rise, what can we do as an industry to combat this?

Building and maintaining roads can be a dangerous business. We do all we can to keep our crews safe, but it only takes a momentary distraction for a car or truck to cross into a work zone, causing an accident. As a result, over 3,300 people — including an estimated 650 workers — have been killed nationally in work zone crashes over the past five years. In addition, more than 35,000 people annually are injured at these work sites.
According to government data, distracted driving was directly to blame for at least 500 of those deaths and who knows how many of the injuries. The latest AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Culture Index survey found that about 84% of drivers report regularly seeing other drivers using a cellphone for texting while driving. In addition to seeing others do it, 44.9% of drivers surveyed said they themselves read a text message or email while driving and 34.6% of drivers typed or sent a text message or email while driving.
The industry is working hard to find ways to keep workers safe by developing connected technology that can alert drivers through their vehicle of an upcoming work zone as well as inform the construction crew when a high-speed vehicle may be approaching them. We investigate one type of this technology in the November issue of Asphalt Contractor and are always looking to promote ways to keep workers safe. But we can only do so much.
Increased Legislation Needed
With the number of work zone deaths not decreasing year over year, it’s time we start to increase legislation and repercussions for those who violate cell phone bans while driving and look to ways to increase those bans through work zones.
Did you know that not one state in the United States bans all cell phone use for all drivers? We suppose that would be too much to ask. Yes, 47 states have a text messaging ban while driving, but only 16 states prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Let’s be honest, if you can pick up the phone to make a call while driving, you’re probably also going to be texting.
What’s more is that recent survey data shows that cell phone bans don’t even scare drivers. In July of 2018, the “Hands-Free Georgia Act,” legislation went into effect that bars drivers from touching their smartphones. Motorists caught tweeting or texting or even switching the Spotify playlist can be pinned with a $50 fine and a point on their license for a first offense.
People busted two or three times could be docked $100 or $150, respectively, and an additional two or three penalty points.
In just the first month since the law took effect, nearly 1,000 citations were issued, according to research published by the American Automobile Association (AAA).
AAA, surveying about 1,200 people in Georgia, found that 98% of drivers are well aware that it’s now illegal to use their devices while behind the wheel. It also discovered that motorists don’t seem to care. Maybe Georgia drivers don’t seem to care much about obliging the cell phone ban because after three violations of the new law, the punishment doesn’t increase.
Seventy-five percent of respondents to AAA’s questionnaire said they’d seen other drivers using their phones on the road. Sixty percent claimed they’ve seen people unabashedly texting while driving.
While the U.S. Department of Transportation reports that such laws have curbed accidents by an average of 16 percent over a two-year period, work zones are a different animal and should therefore have different laws. 
And since over fifty-four percent of highway contractors reported that motor vehicles had crashed into their construction work zones during the past year, we should push for tougher cell phone restrictions in work zones.