Study Indicates Distraction a Major Contributor to Work-Zone Crashes

Work zone areas are notorious for being high risk when it comes to highway safety.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports that in 2015, there were an estimated 96,626 crashes in work zones, an increase of 7.8 percent over 2014, and a 42 percent increase since 2013. On average in 2015, a work zone crash occurred once every 5.4 minutes.

A recent study from the University of Missouri found that distracted drivers were 29 times more likely to be involved in a work-zone collision or near collision. The researchers suggested that the results from the study could help state transportation agencies to implement countermeasures to decrease injuries and fatalities in highway work zones.

Distracted Driving Greatly Increases Risk of a Crash in a Work Zone

April 8-12, 2019 is National Work Zone Awareness Week in the U.S. The national kick-off event will be held in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage safe driving through highway work zones.

Work zones are hazardous to begin with without adding distraction to the mix.

Motorists must drive through a complex array of signs, barrels, and lane changes, all while reducing speed and watching out for road crews and construction workers. Drivers face increased penalties for speeding or otherwise endangering others in work areas, but that hasn’t stopped those behaviors from occurring.

Researchers for the study used data from the Transportation Research Board’s second Strategic Highway Research Program’s Naturalistic Driving Study, which included information from more than 3,000 drivers traveling more than 50 million miles.

They noted that prior research indicated that narrow lanes in work zones are less safe than wider lanes, and that speeding in work zones was associated with injury severity.

The researchers wanted to know what part distraction may have played in work zone area crashes. Results showed that drivers engaging in a non-driving related secondary task, such as answering a phone call or text message, or being distracted by a passenger, for any length of time were 29 times more likely to be involved in a collision or near collision while in a highway work zone.

“Driver inattention was found to be the most critical behavioral factor contributing to CNC [crashes and near-crashes] risk….”

the authors wrote. They suggested improved public education, laws to ban texting and driving, and policies that deter driver distractions. They also suggested supporting the development of new technology, such as driverless vehicles.

Distracted Driving Greatly Increases Risk of a Crash in a Work Zone

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) encourages law enforcement officers to look out for drivers texting or using their phones while behind the wheel during this month, and encourages a period of high-visibility enforcement. A number of other organizations also contribute to road safety campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness of distracted driving.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) notes that distracted driving is a major public health and safety concern, and was a factor in at least 3,157 fatal crashes in 2016.