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Published: Spring, 2004; Vol 6, Num 2

 

Limiting Fatalities through Public Awareness Campaigns:

Often Targeted, Seldom Responsive,
Driving Public Saps Safety Resources

Non-construction truck and automobile drivers who inadvertently intrude the work zone or collide with workers outside the work zone cause approximately 42 percent of fatalities among roadway workers.

As they crash into work zones and roadway workers, truck and automobile drivers kill themselves and their passengers in huge numbers. While about 50 road workers are killed annually by motorists or commercial truckers, more than 1000 non-construction drivers kill themselves and their passengers in and around work zones.

Given that spectacular damage, public officials naturally tend to focus on educating and controlling the driving public.

LIUNA, signatory contractors and regional LECET offices have initiated or supported many of these efforts, and, often, the campaigns have been extremely well done. Three years ago, LIUNA Local 169 in Reno won a national award for its Flagger Moms from Orange Cone Hell, and in 2002, the New England Laborers' Health and Safety Fund won a similar award for its Cone Zone collaborative campaign with the American Automobile Association of Southern New England.

Another popular tactic aimed at controlling the behavior of the driving public is adoption and enforcement of double fines for speeding in work zones. Over the last decade, every state has passed such a statute, usually with the support of local Laborers. For instance, last fall, in Illinois, the Midwest Regional Health and Safety Fund participated in a task force convened by state officials that made numerous recommendations to enhance enforcement around work zones. The recommendations were adopted by the Governor.

INJURE/KILL
A WORKER
$10,000 FINE
14 YRS IN JAIL

Adopting the more threatening approach that is used in neighboring Michigan, the Illinois Department of Transportation will soon post this sign at the beginning of highway work zones. It replaces the "Give 'em a brake" and the "My Mommy/Daddy Works Here" signs that have been used in past years. It is hoped that the harder message will get drivers' attention.

A third public awareness endeavor is drivers' education segments devoted to work zone safety. A number of states and private organizations have developed innovative and creative lesson plans and multimedia materials aimed at new and youthful drivers.

Despite these kinds of initiatives, however, work zone fatalities among workers rose 43 percent over the last decade. This raises doubts about the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at the driving public.

A big reason that campaigns aimed at the driving public do not succeed is lack of adequate funding.

As any advertising professional will confirm, the key to success in the mass media is constant, repeat exposure. Yet, every billboard sign costs money, and most are seen only by a small proportion of drivers. Public service announcements are free, but generally are relegated to late-night airings when few people are watching. The fact is that public awareness campaigns simply lack the resources to keep their message in front of the driving public.

Enforcement campaigns face a similar difficulty because, generally, stationing police at all work zones is cost prohibitive. In addition, enforcement around work zones is difficult because it increases congestion and the risk of collisions. Though experience everywhere demonstrates that police presence slows drivers, a way must be found to fund police presence at all work zones. So far, no one has solved that problem.

Perhaps the most chilling relevant statistic is the fact that nearly 40 percent of these fatalities are caused by drunk or impaired drivers. It is doubtful that public awareness programs have any significant impact on these individuals.

If these drunk or impaired drivers are discounted, about 30 worker fatalities a year, nationwide, are caused by drivers in full control of their senses. Spending resources on broad public awareness campaigns to control these incidents is probably less effective than the same resources invested in specific work zone interventions that directly improve safety for roadway workers. Indeed, some such interventions - for instance, positive separation - control the potential of the driving public, sober or impaired, to do damage, even without increased awareness.

[Steve Clark]