JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Bright orange safety vests glint in the morning sunlight as roadside construction employees convoy equipment needed for the day's scheduled work.
The heavy machinery ambles along at a steady pace, and the workers use signals to communicate as rush-hour traffic whizzes by in the adjacent lane. Busy motorists head to work, vacation or other destinations, while juggling thoughts and concerns of day-to-day life.
For these motorists, it is easy to become distracted trying to make a call or send a text, while failing to notice they have entered a highway work zone.
As the routine activity of constructing and maintaining our state's highway system continues to expand, transportation workers are increasingly placed in dangerous situations. These men and women working on the highways have virtually zero protection when a 3,000 pound errant vehicle ignores the safety vehicles and warning devices surrounding a work zone. When this occurs, the consequences for workers and motorists are potentially disabling and sometimes deadly.
Incidents such as these are all too common for employees of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other roadside construction workers, sometimes leaving families devastated and workers struggling through months of rehabilitation, if they survive.
"Drivers should keep in mind that these are real people with families," said District 5 Safety Officer Danny McDonald, who recently responded to an accident where a coworker was hit by a passenger vehicle while working on a routine highway maintenance project. "Driving safely to protect these workers should be every driver's number one priority."
To raise national, state and local awareness about this issue, MDOT is joining the American Traffic Safety Services Foundation in declaring July 19-25 as Summer Work Zone Awareness Week. The campaign highlights the reality of work zone fatalities, focusing public attention on the need to respect and protect roadway workers.
Roadside maintenance and construction are already grueling tasks as workers endure extreme temperatures while working with heavy equipment in a dangerous environment. The most frequent injuries include strains, sprains, lacerations and contusions. MDOT continues to increase safety measures with positive results. Reported injuries dropped from over 500 in 2011 to approximately 240 in 2014.
One thing impossible for MDOT to control is the amount of caution shown by drivers who encounter these workers on the road nearly every day.
"We understand that work zones, while essential for maintenance, construction and safe operation of roadways, can cause a disruption to ingrained driving routines," said MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath. "We do everything possible to alert motorists to the work zone and clearly define a safe speed and path through it; however, we cannot get behind your wheel, operate your brakes and force your attention to the transportation workers laboring in heat, cold and danger – for you."
MDOT asks drivers to think about what is at stake when they drive in a careless or distracted manner, especially when roadside workers are present. Remember, behind the flashing lights, orange cones and safety vests stand mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends.
"It's extremely important to us that we keep our workers safe, but a great deal of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the traveling public," McGrath said. "We want everyone to take that responsibility seriously."
For more information on Summer Work Zone Awareness Week or tips to drive smart, visit GoMDOT.com or check out the video playlist on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL35Emno659YNDpLCEYHFSV1NPOxWMQ0GJ.