Zoned Out: Solution for road work crashes can’t come soon enough

Updated Jan 18, 2019

Road Work

If you look at fatal traffic crashes in total, drunken driving (cited in 28 percent of deaths) as a contributing factor far outweighs distracted driving (9 percent), according to 2016 tallies reported by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Whether these same percentages are reflected in work-zone fatalities is a matter of conjecture, since these “human choices,” as the USDOT terms them, can be difficult to decipher in the work-zone slice of the data, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse.

But it’s telling that when investigators examine a work-zone fatality (indeed any traffic fatality), there are two go-to places: the toxicology report and cellphone records. 

As Senior Editor Joy Powell’s story points out, technology may be part of the answer to combating technology. Several DOTs are looking to connected vehicle technologies to fight the backlit screens that lure our attention from the road. 

It’s a mission that’s especially important to Craig Parker, vice president of Silver Star Construction and current National Asphalt Pavement Association president. As Parker details in a video on NAPA’s WatchForU work-zone safety campaign site, in 2017 a Silver Star flagger was hit and thrown about 80 feet – all because a pickup truck driver looked up from his phone too late. The flagger survived but is still in recovery. 

Surely, Parker contends, there are technologies that can assist contractors in keeping drivers alert and their employees safe while on road construction jobs. 

Joy has followed Parker’s quest since he became NAPA president in January. He’s become a willing bleeding-edge adaptor, trying out products from several companies. The latest is Site2020’s Guardian SmartFlagger automated flagger assistance device, which allows a single trained operator to manage traffic on a jobsite. (For more, go to

Solutions in getting workers out of harm’s way cannot come too quickly. In 2016, the latest year for which work-zone fatality information is available, 143 workers died in work zones, according to The irony is that they accounted for just 19 percent of work-zone fatalities that year, meaning that drivers and pedestrians were even more at risk. Putting down your phone is more likely to save your own life than those of the workers you pass on the road.

Of course, distracted driving is just one of many culprits in work-zone crashes. Drunken driving still holds its No. 1 place of shame for reasons why these incidents occur; the most recent estimate (2015) says alcohol was involved in a quarter of work-zone fatalities.

One such fatality was Tyresa Monaghan, a 49-year-old flagger who was killed when an alleged drunken driver hit her on August 15th in Umatilla County, Oregon. The incident happened the same week that two other flaggers were injured on Oregon roads, one by a driver in an alleged fit of road rage over traffic delays.

And as of press time, Illinois State Police were still investigating why a speeding driver careened into a Chicago-area jobsite in mid-September, killing 61-year-old flagger Frank Caputo. 

The Tyresas and Franks still working each day to build our roads deserve our best solutions – and our attention.