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Utilizing Smart Work Zone Technology on Transportation Projects

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is committed to reducing motor vehicle crashes, including crashes that occur in work zones. It should come as no surprise that, when a motorist strikes a large work truck, these accidents are more prone to result in fatalities. Between 2012 and 2017, 58 percent of fatal work zone crashes on highways and interstate projects involved a large truck and a rear-end collision. Approximately half of these fatalities occurred when a passenger vehicle ran into the back of the large truck. 

In this editorial, we will discuss the common reasons why workplace accidents occur between passenger vehicles and large trucks. We will also explain how the implementation of advanced technology can help prevent future fatalities on transportation projects. Remember, if your construction business requires legal representation, including for safety initiatives, consult the Florida construction attorneys with Cotney Attorneys & Consultants. 

Related: Florida Roads Are Some of the Most Dangerous

3 Common Accidents for Work Trucks on Transportation Projects 

Large work trucks like semi-tractor trailers and dump trucks are big targets, and they are struck from behind by passenger vehicles for a variety of reasons. Here are three common reasons why these accidents occur:

  1. Many of these types of accidents occur at the upstream of traffic zones due to lane closures or other work activities. The motorist may be driving too fast, the work zone may be congested, or there may be visibility issues during the nighttime when a passenger car strikes a work truck.
  2. These accidents commonly occur when a large work truck is exiting a workzone and entering the highway or interstate system at a slow speed. A passenger vehicle may be traveling at a much greater speed and fail to merge or slow down in time before they strike the work truck entering the intersection.
  3. A passenger car may be involved in a rear-end collision with a large work truck entering the construction site, as the large truck will need to greatly reduce its speed to enter the access point of the jobsite and the passenger car may be following too closely.

Related: How to Protect Construction Workers on Roadsides

Mitigating Workplace Collisions

To combat the above issues, construction site managers need to implement practices that will help reduce the likelihood of accidents between their large work trucks and bystanders. This can be performed through a variety of initiatives, including: 

  • Creating a traffic control plan
  • Seeking assistance from local authorities
  • Creating strong company policies that prohibit distractions like smart phone use 
  • Implementing standard safety features like lighting and safety cones
  • Training crews on safety objectives 

Although any of the above initiatives is a great way to start the process of creating a safer workplace, contractors can partner with a Florida construction attorney and update their employee and safety manuals to ensure they are considering the above objectives. However, in some cases, traditional measures are not enough. How can contractors protect their employees when they are most vulnerable? For example, how can a dump truck driver be protected when they exit the access point of a transportation worksite? Let’s discuss some new technology that can assist with this.  

Smart Work Zone Systems 

Most agencies require construction crews to utilize signage indicating entry and exit areas of a roadway work area. Feel free to consult a Naples construction attorney about sign requirements for projects, but this is pretty much a guarantee for any project taking place on a roadway. Although a static warning sign is better than nothing, most motorists pay little attention to these signs. This is especially true if they regularly pass the sign without encountering an issue or observing work trucks exiting the work area. Eventually, the motorist will disregard these static signs as nothing to be concerned about. 

Fortunately, with a smart work zone (SWZ) system, the traditional static sign can be enhanced by utilizing new technology to provide more credibility to the roadwork sign system. SMZ systems are designed to detect a large work truck as it nears the access point to exit the workspace. When the truck is within range of the SWZ system, the system automatically sends out a warning signal to motorists in front of the workspace. The most common and affordable process for achieving this is through radar-based detection technology. 

By mounting a sensor on the warning sign and pointing it towards the access area of the jobsite, when a work truck nears the access point, this will send a radar signal to the static warning sign and activate flashing lights and portable changeable message signs (PCMS), warning nearby motorists of the impending work truck entering the highway or interstate system. In other words, a sensor is set up that detects the work truck exiting the access point and then activates the warning messaging on the sign to alert nearby motorists upstream from the work area.

Related: How Autonomous Technology Addresses the Labor Shortage

Creating an Effective SMZ System

In order to reduce liability, contractors need to consider investing in additional means of technology to mitigate potential risks. Our Naples construction lawyers encourage contractors to learn more about how to create an effective SMZ system for their roadside construction projects. In order to do this, the contractor needs to implement these key elements:

  • The SMZ system needs to react in real time, meaning that when the work truck enters and exits the access point of the jobsite, the direct point-to-point wireless communication system triggers the sensor and activates the PCMS system. The timing and accuracy of the system is pivotal for protecting the driver of the work truck.
  • In order to ensure the system works instantaneously, the sensor needs to be mounted and pointed in a way that ensures the truck is detected as it exits the access area. The location of the sensor will need to be tested during installation and periodically throughout each shift to ensure it is accurately detecting the work trucks entering the exit access point and not detecting nearby construction equipment or passing vehicles. Sensors may require realignment and recalibration throughout the course of the day
  • Just like a static sign, the PCMS system needs to be positioned well before the access point the truck exits, so that motorists have the opportunity to observe the sign, read the message, and react well before they near the access point. In order to position the sign at a distance that provides appropriate guidance to drivers, construction site managers will need to consider the speed of the travel lanes and the available area of the highway to place the sign. Generally, this distance may range anywhere from a little over 100 yards to over 500 yards.
  • It’s ideal to position the sign in an area that will allow motorists to observe both the messaging of the warning sign and the physical presence of the jobsite and work truck access point in the distance. Any warning sign placed in an area that coordinates both the messaging of the sign and the sight of the potential hazard will only ensure that motorists take the messaging seriously. 

As roadside construction projects offer a variety of safety risks and challenges to construction professionals, contractors need to perform their due diligence, invest in reliable equipment, and consult a South FL contractor lawyer with Cotney Attorneys & Consultants if they have safety related legal questions or concerns. For safety manual drafting and review or third-party inspections by a legal professional, consult the attorneys at Cotney Attorneys & Consultants. 

If you would like to speak with our South FL contractor lawyers, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.