Roads & Paving
Top five safety trends for road construction
April 25, 2018 – Every 5.4 minutes a work zone crash occurs, with roughly 25 per cent of crashes involving large trucks and nearly half of all fatalities involving construction vehicles.
“While these statistics are unsettling to say the least, there are solutions emerging every year that can assist companies in making workers safer,” explains David Braunstein, president, Together for Safer Roads.
Together for Safer Roads is an innovative coalition of global private sector companies, across industries, collaborating to improve road safety. The coalition brings together members’ knowledge, data, technology, and global networks to focus on areas that will make the greatest impact globally and within local communities.
Prioritizing traffic safety
New technology, trends, and solutions for drivers and construction workers is helping lead Toward Zero Deaths, which is a platform of consistency for state agencies, private industry, national organizations, and others to develop safety plans that prioritize traffic safety culture and promote the national vision.
Eric Perry, senior technical advisor, American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), points to the fact that several European countries have taken an aggressive stance to reduce deaths and it is working. Meanwhile, in the U.S., both state transportation departments and contractors are placing a higher emphasis on worker safety.
“Our roadways are getting safer; however, a lot of the roadway industry’s safety is in the driver’s hands,” he says. “Distracted driving is one of the highest causes of fatalities in our roadways and has been on the rise over the past decade.”
This points to larger trends that are happening on the roads today: there are more cars on the road, the vehicle miles traveled are going up, there is greater distraction than ever before, and thus it seems like the numbers of accidents in work zones are rising.
However, Brian Watson, director of new programs, ATSSA, says statistics that point to the number of work zone deaths might lead people to believe safety practices and products aren’t making a positive impact, but this is untrue. Safety is, in fact, improving.
“Yes, the more vehicle miles traveled, you’re going to have more deaths,” he says. “The statistic that I would like to see or refer to is vehicle miles traveled over deaths and that way you can get a better ratio of how many people are actually dying in relation to how many miles are traveled.”
He gives this example: Say last year there was a trillion miles traveled and 500,000 people died. Well this year there’s two trillion miles traveled and only an extra 50,000 people died.
“To me that’s actually a decrease in overall deaths because of how many more vehicle miles were traveled,” he explains. “You have to look at that correlation.”
Using technology to increase work zone safety
Still, the overall objective is Toward Zero Deaths on roadways. That is the focus of many initiatives and technologies available today. How can technology help? There are five general trends emerging today that relate directly to construction safety and road projects.
1. Wrong way driving
One of the big trends is wrong way driving. The ATSSA indicates that a lot of deaths result annually because of wrong way driving, but there are some solutions out there.
For example, LaneAlert2x is a countermeasure to wrong-way driving. The continuous pavement marking displays unidirectional colors and/or messages based on travel direction. This product was a winner of the ATSSA Innovation Award and was rolled out earlier this year.
2. Equipment/Vehicle technologies
One of the best ways to avoid work-zone injury and fatalities is by leveraging the appropriate technologies inside vehicles and equipment. This is one of the pillars of the Together for Safer Roads Coalition: Safer vehicles.
For example, rear-view camera systems and spot mirrors for vehicle operators can help ensure visibility. Technologies such as reversing alarms can help keep those working around large vehicles out of harm’s way by alerting them when a vehicle is moving backwards, explains Braunstein of Together for Safer Roads.
Further, vehicles can be outfitted with the latest light bar technology, which can also help increase the vehicle and work zone awareness of other road users that can be involved in crashes.
“An exciting new development is the emergence of real-time vehicle-to-vehicle and connected mobility solutions that take light bar technology to the next level, alerting users of navigation systems like Waze, to the presence of work zones and slow-moving work zone vehicles well in advance of their reaching the work zone,” he says.
3. Wearable technologies
Another big trend that is emerging on construction jobsites is the emergence of wearable technology. This can help keep workers safe in a number of different ways.
Oldcastle, for instance, offers a product with haptic feedback visual and audio for individuals working on the roads. This senses when a vehicle enters a work zone and alerts the roadway worker. The vibration, audio, and visual alerts are all equally important, says Watson.
“If you have a roadway worker using a jackhammer, that worker wouldn’t hear the alert and might not feel the alert, but would see the light flashing on their vest,” he says. “You have to have all three components.”
This type of wearable technology can help construction workers through all the different phases of a job that needs to be carried out in a work zone.
4. Remote monitoring
The fourth big trend is remote monitoring, and this can be done in a number of different ways: LIDAR, drones, wearables, sensors, and more.
Drones and LIDAR, for instance, can remotely monitor and provide real-time data on road conditions and work zones. Meanwhile, road sensors embedded within infrastructure can circulate data and information back to other vehicles and road users that can be predictive of hazardous conditions. Also, there are a number of new vehicle-to-roadside technologies emerging that provide alerts to road users without requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road.
“For companies operating fleets to transport construction materials, it’s important to be aware of hazardous road areas, inclement weather, and transportation routes by monitoring the condition of road surfaces, traffic patterns, and critical infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels,” explains Braunstein, Together for Safer Roads.
5. Smarter work zones
Overall, there is a trend toward smart work zones, which can include end-of-queue warnings, congestion, and traffic avoidance, as a few examples.
Perry says queue detection is of particular interest as some states have found that more than 30 percent of their work zone fatalities are occurring at the back of queue. “Several state department of transportation agencies have developed programs and campaigns on various queue management techniques to reduce end-of-queue crashes,” he adds.
Still, one of the biggest factors holding back widespread adoption of smarter work zones is that they need to get paid for.
Adds Watson, “The reason why they are not happening more and more is because lower bids from contractors or subcontractors usually win construction projects. If people are throwing in additional safety precautions such as smarter work zones … it might cost an extra $5,000 and that extra money might be the difference between winning and losing a bid.”
If transportation departments could include those into the job specifications, then smart work zones can become more prevalent and continue to save lives, he suggests.