What’s Behind The High Number Of Work Zone Crashes?

Texas Department of Transportation is appealing to drivers to pay attention in highway work zones. Officials say drunk and distracted driving is taking a toll, and highway maintenance workers aren't the only ones in danger.

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A call goes out about an accident. 

A highway maintenance worker stands bloody and dazed next to his wrecked pickup truck. The injured passenger in the other vehicle is taken away on a stretcher. The driver of the car is given a field sobriety test, and fails.

When a DPS trooper leads her away in handcuffs there’s a round of applause.

“What you have just witnessed was a re-enactment of a distracted driver, intoxicated, crashing into a work zone.”

With workers just a few feet away in a real work zone, TxDOT held the event at its Houston headquarters to mark National Work Zone Awareness Week.  The annual event calls attention to the problem of drunk and distracted driving in highway work zones.

TXDOT says in 2012 there were over 16,000 work zone crashes around the state. One hundred and thirty-four people were killed. Two-thousand of those crashes happened in the Houston area. Fifteen people died in those wrecks.

TXDOT maintenance worker Tommy Sheldon almost became a statistic after a crash on the North Loop in 2007.  

“A driver came into our work zone while we were outside the vehicle and hit me first, then hit a co-worker before she ultimately hit the truck.”

Sheldon says he didn’t hear any squealing tires or screeching brakes. There was no warning at all.
“I more or less got a glancing blow. I was knocked about 30 feet off into the median. My co-worker sustained the worst injuries because the car actually ran him over, completely over.”

So what’s behind these wrecks? 

TXDOT’s Danny Perez says they’re often the result of speeding. You also have drivers who are texting and making phone calls. And when crews are working on the freeways at night, their big concern is drunk drivers.

“We’ve had several instances where you’ve had folks going into work zones, and then we’ve had instances where the first responders are out there, our folks are out there, then another crash happens in the same work zone.”

TxDOT reminds drivers that workers aren’t the only ones in danger in highway work zones. Statistics show that four out of five people killed in work zones are drivers or their passengers.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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