The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 1, 2014

Failure to slow for highway workers has consequences

There are a solid few weeks of 2006 that Division of Highways worker Bill Swan just doesn’t remember.

He doesn’t remember being hit by a vehicle, smashing his head against the windshield or falling with such force to the ground that it fractured his skull a second time. He doesn’t remember being on machines that kept him living and breathing for 12 days while doctors tried to the stop the bleeding in his brain.

He doesn’t remember the vigil his wife and sisters held at his bedside, not knowing whether he’d pull through.

You see, it shouldn’t have have happened. He was beyond the orange barrels placed there to protect him from oncoming traffic. There were signs posted several miles in advance of his work location. There were signs that flashed actual speed versus the speed limit. But a distracted driver ignored the posted signs, the warnings and the barrels. In fact, witnesses on scene say that the driver didn’t even initially stop or realize that a person had been hit.

And that’s how Swan became part of an average — there is one highway worker injured every nine minutes in situations like this. It’s fortunate that he wasn’t part of another statistic — there are on average three highway workers killed per day.

On Wednesday, state highways officials announced a campaign to bring awareness for the safety of construction workers along the roadways in West Virginia. Officials say there were more than 450 crashes in West Virginia work zones last year along with two fatalities.

And that just isn’t acceptable. A harsh winter has taken its toll on roads and bridges, creating massive potholes in addition to the massive wear and tear that a regular winter season brings. We complain about the size of potholes, gripe about the condition of the roads, yet seeing those orange construction barrels seems to bring us just as much grief. Why? Slowing down to a required construction speed limit and taking a little extra caution to keep aware in work zones will help the DOH workers get the job done a little faster ... and certainly much safer.

“Behind those barrels are people’s moms and dads and grandparents, and we all want to go home at the end of the day,” says DOH employee Lisa Booth, who works alongside her three adult sons on the state road crew. She’s part of a public service campaign reminding people that beyond the barrels are workers who deserve a safe environment to make a living in.

Yes, there will be delays. Yes, you may have to plan a cushion on regular commutes and road trips.

But, please. Take into account the men and women who are putting in long days in the hot sun and performing back-breaking labor to make roads safer and more convenient for drivers.

Also remember that failure to do so has consequences.

“Yellow and blue make green. When you see these yellow vests on these workers in these work zones and you don’t slow your vehicle down, then the next thing you may see is the blue lights on our cruisers,” First Lt. Michael Baylous with the West Virginia State Police said during the launch event in Charleston.

“When you see that, that’s where the green comes in. It’s going to be the court costs and fines that come with your irresponsible behavior.”

It’s sad that it takes the threat of fines to force drivers to take a little caution and protect the lives of construction workers. But if saves a life ... or two, the number of lives lost last year ... then it’s worth it.

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