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COLUMN: KEEP OREGON MOVING

Even as drivers logged fewer miles, speeding, distracted and impaired driving all spiked last year.

Many of us view our offices differently in these days of hallway commutes and virtual meetings.

But those working to keep our roads safe are still at the "office" — a work zone where crews building, repairing or maintaining our modern transportation system spend long hours standing on pavement as vehicles creep or, all too often, speed by.

You've probably driven through one, hopefully taking care to slow down, knowing to expect delays and giving workers plenty of space.

ROWEWhile a lot has changed in the last year, our commitment to safety hasn't, and neither has the role we all play in making sure workers are safe and drivers, passengers and freight make it to their destinations safely.

In Oregon, May is the traditional start of summer construction season and is also Work Zone Safety Month, when we remind drivers to pay attention when they see orange signs, barrels, cones and barricades. We want you to remember this every day, not just during May.

Simply paying attention can make all the difference.

An inattentive driver is the most common cause of work zone crashes. Between 2014 and 2018, an average of 535 people were injured each year in work zone crashes in Oregon. During the same time, there was an average of five work zone fatalities each year, including one worker.

HOFFMANEven as drivers logged fewer miles, speeding, distracted and impaired driving all spiked last year, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report.

Those choices — to speed, to drive without full attention on the road, to take the wheel impaired — make our roads less safe for everyone. All too often, those choices have deadly consequences. The association, which looked at preliminary crash data, projected that pedestrian fatalities rose 20% nationally in the first six months of 2020.

Those kinds of statistics give us pause and are one of the many reasons we consider safety in everything we do, whether we're inspecting trucks, administering drive tests, building bridges to new seismic standards or reminding drivers to buckle up.

We use the latest technology to make Oregon roads safer, including "intelligent transportation system" technology to monitor traffic flow, keep drivers in the know and warn them about work zones. Automated flaggers and mobile barriers give work crews a buffer that can be the difference between a close call and a phone call to a loved one.

There's no magic technology or a single piece of equipment that can prevent every crash in work zones. This is where you come in.

We need everyone's help.

In transportation safety, we never talk about accidents. We can't prevent accidents. We can prevent crashes. The choices we make matter. They are simple. It's simple to call a rideshare, ease off the accelerator, or put the phone on do not disturb.

Too many workers have too many stories about what happened because someone made the wrong choice. Nearly every ODOT employee who works on the road has been hit or had a near miss. Worse yet, too many of them have stories of coworkers who didn't go home because someone made a bad choice.

There's not much margin for error, especially in work zones where traffic lanes are narrow and lack shoulders and emergency lanes. Remember to give workers space when possible; they need it. Make simple choices: Stay alert. Obey the speed limit. Plan ahead.

Most of all, drive like you work there, because someone's father, mother, son, daughter, friend or coworker does.

Remember, your choices can help make us all safer and that we're all in this together.


Karen Rowe is the Delivery and Operations Division administrator at the Oregon Department of Transportation. Victor Hoffer is the chairman of the Oregon Transportation Safety Committee. Questions can be directed to AskODOT at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 888-Ask-ODOT.


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