I’ve got some exciting news to share: I’m working again! Well sort of. I worked 11 hours between Thursday and Friday of last week. The next two weeks may or may not see any work, but at least I can list myself as employed now and help the government statistics. 🙂 Then, starting April 8th, I will have three weeks as the landscaping is finished on the major project I spent most of my time at last year. By the time that is over, it will be May and construction season should be in full swing.
In honor of my restoration to the status of annoying drivers throughout Colorado, I thought I would share some tips for minimizing your hassle in a construction zone and staying safe around all of that equipment and workers on foot.
The number one tip is, of course, avoid the construction zone altogether. If you know that part of your normal route is under construction, choose another route. The other route may be slightly longer, but you can plan for that. Unless you know somebody on the construction crew, you probably will have no way of knowing if there is going to be a lane closure, one lane road, or just stopped traffic to let equipment on or off the road.
I’m a construction worker and I hate getting stuck in that mess. Our safety manager has been in the industry for 40 years and he hates getting stuck in construction traffic. If the pros are going out of their way to avoid construction zones, why shouldn’t you?
Now, I will grant that you can’t always avoid construction zones. They may be doing road work on your street, or in front of your destination. Sometimes a detour is just too long. But in general, avoiding construction is going to get you where you are going faster and with less aggravation.
Slow Down in Construction zones
First of all, in most construction zones, the speed limit will drop, a fact that many drivers seem to ignore. Smaller roads tend to be brought down to 35 MPH and interstate highways go down to 65 through the zone and 55 where work is being done.
Many drivers don’t really understand why we are slowing them down from 50 to 35. Well, here are two fun facts related to speed and safety.
For the benefit of the doubt, I will assume you are an alert driver, not under the influence of anything, fully awake, and not texting, talking to someone, or singing along to the latest Justin Timberlake single. Let’s also assume that your brakes are in proper condition, you have full tread on your tires, and the road is dry and at a moderate temperature.
At 35 MPH, average stopping distance is 95 feet. That is nearly 1/3 of the length of a football field. This includes reaction time, or the time to see something that you need to brake for, mental processing of that information, and applying your foot to the break. This is typically considered to be approximately 2/3 of a second. So the faster you are going, the further you are going to drive before you even START to break! If something is put in front of your vehicle within 95 feet of you, you are going to hit it, unless you can swerve to avoid it. On a busy two lane road, your swerving options are pretty limited.
At 50 MPH, average stopping distance more than doubles to 175 feet. That increase of 15 mph increases your impact zone by 80 feet or more than 5 car lengths. That is almost a doubling of stopping distance.
A handy guide showing stopping distances at different speeds can be found at drivestayalive.com. Or a handy rule of thumb: reaction distance in feet is equal to speed in miles per hour. Breaking distance in feet is your speed (in mph)/20, squared, and multiplied by 20., i.e. ((x/20)^2)*20.
Chance of Fatal Impact
If you were to hit a pedestrian while driving, the chances of the impact being fatal at 35 mph are 50%. That’s pretty frightening as it is. But at 50 mph, a fatal impact is nearly certain. Almost no one has survived being hit by a car going over 50.
And besides all that, the slipstream created by a truck doing 50 mph is nearly enough to knock a person over. So you can hurt somebody standing on the side of the road without even hitting them!
Follow construction signs and cones
This should go without saying, but sadly it does seem to need to be said. When driving through a construction zone, pay attention and obey all traffic control devices. This means signs, barricades, barrels, cones, vertical panels, candlesticks, and flaggers. That stuff is all there for your protection.
Barrels, cones, vertical panels (a 2 dimensional panel about 3 feet high with diagonal orange and white lines), and candlesticks (basically a really skinny traffic barrel) are usually used to denote a path through a construction area. Barricades are usually used when the roadway behind it is going to be closed off for more than a couple of days. The area behind these devices is off-limits, so do not drive in between two cones!
When a device has diagonal lines, you are supposed to drive in the direction the lines are pointing. If the lines point down and to the right, you are to drive to the right. When two barricades are next to each other with the lines pointing in opposite directions, that means the road in front of it is completely closed to all traffic.
The area is blocked off for a reason. There could be workers in that area that are expecting it to be “dead” and not paying attention to traffic. Or the road surface itself could be unstable or even missing. I’ve seen people drive off the road or into hot asphalt because they didn’t follow the cone line. (Side note, asphalt fresh off the paver is hot enough to burst rubber tires).
I’ve also had a lot of trouble with people ignoring barricades. When one side of a wide road is closed off until an intersection, traffic will all be placed on the other side of the road and will have to curve around in the intersection. From experience, I can say that approximately one out of every 500 cars will ignore all signage and drive straight through the intersection into oncoming traffic.
In reality, all it takes is commons sense and attention, but those seem to be seriously lacking on today’s roads. Arming yourself with a little knowledge can keep yourself and others safe while dealing with road construction.
Do you avoid road construction zones? Have you ever been guilty of ignoring construction signs or devices?