CHARLESTON, WV – Drivers will see an increased police presence in West Virginia work zones this highway construction season, leaders with the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) and several law enforcement agencies announced at an event Tuesday at the State Capitol recognizing Work Zone Awareness Week.
“We are going to do everything that we can to meet our goal of zero lives lost on our highways and zero lives lost in our work zones,” said WVDOT Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E. “This is a united front with our partners in law enforcement. We’re serious about this. The days of talking your way out of these tickets are over, and the fines you’ll face in work zones are doubled.”
Last year, there were 889 crashes in West Virginia work zones, killing five people and injuring more than 300.
With Gov. Jim Justice recently announcing that the 2022 highway construction season is in line to be the busiest year of roadwork in state history, efforts to crack down on speeding and distracted driving in work zones will also reach new heights.
“We have a lot of road projects in West Virginia this year. It’s going to be an aggressive year thanks to the Governor’s Roads To Prosperity program,” said WVDOT Spokesperson Randy Damron. “Each one of those projects is a work zone. So the message today is that there’s going to be a lot of work zones around the state and people need to slow down.”
During the 2022 highway construction season, law enforcement will be issuing tickets in work zones throughout West Virginia. Police will be targeting work zones on Interstate 70, Interstate 68, Interstate 64, Interstate 77, Interstate 79, and Interstate 81 throughout the season.
“I want to let everyone know that we will be out there. We will be issuing citations,” said Matt Epling, Enforcement Officer, Public Service Commission of West Virginia. “We look forward to working with our partner agencies while continuing to enforce traffic laws within these construction zones to make the roadway safer for the traveling public, as well as the men and women that are making repairs to our roads, because one life lost is one too many.”
“I speak for every member of law enforcement when I say that we would much rather issue a traffic citation for speeding than deliver a death message to the family of a driver, passenger, or road worker killed in a construction zone, or anywhere on our roadways,” said Lt. Chris Zirkle of the West Virginia State Police. “This year, you may see one law enforcement officer sitting out in a construction zone. But what you won’t see are the other three or four officers actively working that same construction zone, looking for infractions and writing citations.”
During the event, WVDOT officials displayed 61 empty orange vests, draped atop traffic cones, representing the 61 workers who have been killed in work zones over the years.
“There is not one empty vest up there that is acceptable,” Secretary Wriston said. “And we certainly cannot have any more.”
“Our road workers are people who work hard everyday to make your commute to work, play, and vacation better,” said Mike Clowser, Executive Director, Contractors Association of West Virginia. “For construction workers and Highways employees, the work zone is their office. You want to be safe in your office. Our employees who are on our roadways deserve the same consideration.”
“We can glean a lot from history,” said WVDOT Traffic Engineering Division Director Cindy Cramer, who explained several statistics on crashes. Most crashes occur during daylight hours, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays being the most common days for a crash. She added that the most common type of crash are rear-end collisions. “What that says to me is that people need to pay more attention to the vehicle in front of them.”
On average, 85% of the people who die in work zone crashes are drivers or passengers of the vehicles involved in the wreck.
Nationally, there are about 850 fatalities in work zones each year, which is approximately 2% of all roadway fatalities. Between 2017 and 2021, West Virginia saw 21 fatal crashes in work zones, just over 1% of all roadway fatalities.
“Even though West Virginia’s numbers are slightly better than the national average, there’s still much work to be done to ensure that everyone gets home safely,” Cramer said. “The people who lose their lives are not statistics. They’re people. They’re parents, friends, loved ones, and children who are deeply missed.”
Cramer added that driver speeds on roadways across the state have climbed in recent years. In that same time, the rate of crashes in which speed has been a contributing factor have also increased.
“Speed limits are in place for your safety,” Cramer added. “They’re not arbitrary. They’re there for a reason, and we’re going to be working with our partners very closely this year to bring speeds down into compliance with what’s posted.”
The WVDOT has made significant investments in cameras, road sensors, message boards, and other tools to urge drivers to reduce speeds and pay attention.
“What people also need to remember, though, is that the vast majority of speed-related crashes don’t happen on the interstate, they happen on secondary roads,” said Bob Tipton, Director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “So it’s not just an interstate issue, it’s an everyplace issue.
“We have to give the perception that any time you’re driving in West Virginia and you’re going 80 miles per hour or faster, there’s a good chance you’re going to get a ticket,” Tipton continued. “That’s the reality we need to drive home for the 15% to 20% of people who don’t conform to the laws on our roadways, that there are going to be consequences for your actions.
“We also need to focus on the words we use when we describe a crash. A crash is not an accident. A crash happens for a reason. It happens because somebody did something wrong, or misjudged, or ignored the law. Crashes don’t happen by accident.”
National Work Zone Awareness Week takes place across the United States each spring, with efforts between state departments of transportation, national road safety organizations, government agencies, private companies, and others to remind the public of the importance of work zone safety.