Rick Hartford / Hartford Courant 5:19 pm, June 5, 2016
When those orange “work zone” signs appear along the roadway, motorists shouldn’t just slow down — they should also plan to leave extra space from the car in front of them.
The state transportation department is trying to get out that message in its monthlong campaign to improve safety at highway construction sites.
DOT statistics from 2000 to 2014 show that cars crashed in work zones because of everything from drunken or sleepy drivers to dangerous lane changes, but the top cause is that vehicles bunch too closely. That leaves no margin when the vehicle in front slows or stops quickly.
During the Work Zone Safety Month campaign in June, DOT’s safety team is pressing its longtime theme of “Obey the Orange.” That principle sums up most of its point: As soon as drivers come across orange barrels, lights or signs, they should prepare to slow down, use extra caution and put aside any distractions.
But this year, the DOT is also emphasizing the mistake that most commonly leads to crashes or fender benders in construction zones: following too closely.
In the 15 years ended in 2014, that factor was cited for contributing to 5,329 accidents in or near designated work zones. By comparison, driving too fast for conditions was listed as a factor in 1,018 accidents, and improper lane changes were part of 2,166.
The DOT advises drivers to not only slow down and focus entirely on driving, but also to resist the temptation to pull close behind the vehicle ahead. When lanes are merged or traffic is slowed by a construction zone, cars often bunch up — sharply raising the risk of rear-end accidents.
Between 2010 and 2014, the location of most work zone crashes has stayed fairly constant, according to DOT statistics: Fairfield County is the scene of about 265 a year. New Haven and Hartford counties rank second and third most dangerous, with New London County fourth. Windham County rates as the safest, with an average of 14 accidents a year.
The DOT statistics include work zones themselves, as well as the areas in both directions where caution signs are posted.
Just in the past three weeks, at least three drivers in Connecticut have been in severe wrecks involving DOT trucks at work assignments.
A New York state man was killed May 19 when his truck slammed into the back of a DOT dump truck being used as a buffer between Route 8 traffic and a pothole-patching operation. The crash happened just nine days after a Norwich woman crashed into the back of a parked DOT truck at another pothole-patching job on I-95 in Old Lyme; the wreck was so bad that troopers temporarily closed all northbound lanes.
On June 1, a driver and a passenger in Montville were hurt when their pickup truck hit an orange DOT dump truck assigned to maintenance work on the right shoulder of I-395.