PUNXSUTAWNEYâ€” Punxsutawney Phil predicts when spring will begin, the Big Run Peepers tell us when it has begun, but it's not until the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) orange barrels and flaggers show up that we know spring is here for real.
Pennsylvania's Work Zone Safety Awareness Week marked the unofficial start of the road construction season, said Shawn Houck, PennDOT District 10 Safety Press officer.
"Highlighting the dangers faced by road crews, PennDOT and other agencies remind motorists to slow down and drive carefully in work zones," said Houck, adding that motorists who speed, drive distracted or are simply careless when traveling in a work zone pose a great safety risk to highway workers and other drivers.
Houck said in 2011, there were more than 1,800 work zone crashes in Pennsylvania, resulting in 21 deaths, including one highway worker.
"We can prevent the needless tragedy that results from crashes in work zones if drivers pay attention and slow down," he said. "The change of reflective-ware from blaze orange to reflective green has received mixed reviews.â€ť
Houck said some motorists claim that when the leaves come out, the bright- green vests tend to blend in with the foliage, which hasn't been proven.
He said the large orange and black diamond shaped warning signs haven't changed.
PennDOT put those out to warn motorists well in advance that a flagger is coming up ahead.
"This is a very serious issue, and it is crucial that all motorists understand the importance of remaining alert and driving safely through work zones," Houck said, adding that it is not just for the men and women working on the roads, but for the safety of all motorists.
"Distracted driving is never a good idea, and it's much more dangerous in a work zone," he said.
Houck said the Pennsylvania State Police provide speed enforcement in work zones on state highways.
Motorists caught driving 11 miles per hour or more, above the posted speed limit in an active work zone, or who are involved in a crash in an active work zone and are convicted of speeding, automatically lose their license for 15 days, he said.
According to PennDOT, nearly 600 motorists had their licenses suspended for work zone violations last year.Â
"The start-up of road work season is also a good time to remind motorists about our state's Steer Clear law," said State Police Maj. Timothy J. Mercer.Â "Whether it's a trooper on a traffic stop or a highway work crew doing repairs on the roadway shoulder, Pennsylvania law requires that motorists either pull into the left lane when possible or slow down to give responders an extra cushion of safety."
Information on work-zone safety laws and other tips are available under the "Work Zone" information center on www.DriveSafePA.org.
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