September 12, 2012
U.S. National Work Zone Awareness Week aims to educate public and reduce fatalities
DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Much has been done in various Canadian jurisdictions to improve public safety awareness of road construction zones.
In the U.S., however, National Work Zone Awareness Week has permeated the collective consciousness of drivers from coast to coast since 1999.
The national public awareness and education event is the work of three organizations, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Traffic Safety Services Association.
“We started with a fairly small inaugural event in Washington, D.C. with perhaps 150 to 200 people attending,” said James Baron, director of communications and public relations with AASHTO.
“By this point, every state in the country has developed their own version of Work Zone Awareness Week.”
Each yearly national campaign is launched in a city selected by the national organizers. The events tend to launch at the beginning of the road work construction season in April or May, depending on the state’s climate. A state competes for the privilege of hosting the kick-off by submitting an application describing its program and its successes.
The 2012 launch was held in Missouri, while next year’s campaign will begin in Washington. The individual public awareness campaigns are as diverse as the states they represent.
In 2004, then-FHA administrator Mary E. Peters set up a desk in a Virginia work zone for a national kick-off event themed “The Worker’s Office Is the Roadway.”
In 2008, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation arranged to have the state’s capitol dome bathed in the colours of an orange traffic cone. Each year, the California Department of Transportation designates a Worker Memorial Day marked by an honour guard of 12 highway workers who wear a special uniform to mark the deaths of workers who lost their lives on the job. Other states have created elaborate mascots.
Last year, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) created Wally the Work Zone Warrior, a three-metre-tall robot made of traffic cones.
“We love Work Zone Awareness Week because it gives us a chance to think outside the box and apply some crazy ideas,” said Bob King, a public relations officer with DelDOT.
“Wally was a lot of fun to build and display. This year, we have NASCAR racer Martin Truex, Jr., who is appearing in a campaign that includes billboards and TV commercials. The basic message is ‘Even I slow down at work zones.’”
Baron noted that many of the campaigns stress the fact that, although work zone safety is critical for highway construction workers, more drivers than workers are killed in work zone incidents.
The campaign appears to be making a difference.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, highway work-zone fatalities fell to 667, the lowest level since 1992.
Overall work zone fatalities and injuries have fallen by 35 per cent since 2000.
“We’re also seeing work zone safety awareness enter the public consciousness,” said Baron. “When you turn on the radio for the morning weather and traffic report, you also get a report on construction work zones. That kind of media penetration demonstrates to us that the program is working.”
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