The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is reminding people to pay extra attention to the roads when they’re around orange cones.
Gov. Scott Walker has designated this week as Work Zone Awareness Week as part of a campaign to prevent traffic crashes and deaths in construction areas along the state’s roadways.
WisDOT reports there have been more than 2,000 work-zone crashes in Wisconsin in each of the last three years, including more than 2,800 last year. In those same years, nine people died and another 1,110 were injured in work-zone crashes.
“Each incident is a painful reminder that it only takes a matter of seconds or a small misjudgment to create a tragedy on our highways,” WisDOT Secretary Dave Ross said in a statement. “A lot can happen – fast – even at a reduced speed in a work zone, so it’s very important to eliminate distractions, slow down and avoid tailgating.”
To make construction zones safer, the department uses safety messages displayed on digital signs, temporary rumble strips and special warning systems that help to notify drivers of speed reductions and other traffic-related information before they reach work zones.
Wisconsin has a number of laws on its books to help protect drivers and construction crews who are out on the road working amid traffic. The most recent law, enacted in just October, forbids drivers to use cellphones while traveling through construction zones. Violators can be fined up to $40 for first offenses and $100 for repeat offenses, although exceptions to this rule allow for the use of hands-free devices at all times and cellphones in emergencies.
Lt. Nate Clarke, executive officer of the Wisconsin State Patrol’s Waukesha post, said the rule hasn’t been enforced much since it went into effect, primarily because most work zones shut down in the winter months.
“I think you’ll start seeing an uptick in enforcement activity as those work zones start back up,” particularly in the summer months, he said on Tuesday.
The new ban on cellphones in construction zones is not the only Wisconsin law meant to make roads safer for workers. Wisconsin’s “Move Over” law requires drivers to slow down or shift lanes, if possible, when traveling past law-enforcement vehicles, tow trucks and other vehicles that are on the side of the road and have their warning lights flashing.
Ross said it’s important to not be distracted when driving through work zones. He said that vehicles, even when they have reduced their speed to 55 mph or less, can still cover a distance equivalent to a football field in less than 4 seconds.
“It’s important to stay focused, giving your undivided attention to the road,” he said.
Since Oct. 1, state troopers have issued 85 warnings and seven citations to people who were found using cellphones while driving through construction zones.