The Dane County Traffic Safety Commission reported 27 crashes where motorists were injured in county work zones in 2023, a year-over-year increase compared to 24 drivers injured in work zone accidents last year. No workers were injured or killed, but one motorist died in 2022.
There have been no deaths this year, but Randy Wiessinger, a law enforcement liaison for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Bureau of Transportation Safety, said work zone crashes in Dane County were in step to exceed last year’s total of 135. So far there have been 93 crashes in 2023, he added.
In 2022, there was one work zone crash every four hours statewide, Wiessinger said. The state saw 11,678 work zone crashes which resulted in 63 deaths and 4,370 injuries. Because of the high frequency of crashes, the influx of road work during the state’s construction season and infrastructure dollars fueling road projects, the traffic safety commission issued a reminder to drive safely in work zones.
WisDOT is also leading a campaign on driving safely in work zones and uses message boards on highways to call attention to crews working on local highways, said Cheryl Wittke, co-chair of the traffic safety commission. Both WisDOT and local municipalities have coordinated signage for work zones, she added.
There are a total of 16 local highway projects underway in Dane County, according to Dane County Highway and Transportation. Projects include a lane expansion along County Highway M from Oncken Road to State Highway 113, safety upgrades to the County Highway AB interchange and a 6.73-mile project for County Highway A between U.S. Highway 14 to State Highway 138.
Both driver frustration and more dollars going into road construction were likely behind increased work zone injuries and deaths, Wiessenger said.
“Increased funding for road construction in recent years has led to a significant increase in the number of road projects. Simultaneously, increased traffic volumes and driver frustration have led to an increased likelihood of work zone injuries and deaths,” he added.
Matt Meyer, traffic safety co-chair and a sergeant with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, said rear-end collisions were the most common types of crashes in highway work zones. He added speeding, tailgating and distracted driving were the leading causes.
“That’s why we recommend those driving through a work zone maintain a separation of at least five seconds between them and the vehicle they are following. Work zones are not there to inconvenience you. They are necessary to improve the roads for everyone. And those men and women working in the zones are putting their own lives at risk. They too have lives and families and we owe it to them to drive cautiously,” he added.
Meyer said drivers should slow down and observe speed limit signs, be alert to changing traffic patterns, plan for more time when trying to reach a destination and leaving space between vehicles. He reminded them it was against the law to use smartphones in a work phone except to report an emergency.