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New bills would let drivers speed in work zones

road workerPicture in your mind a construction worker near the bright orange cones.  Imagine him working in the hot sun, fixing roads this summer.

Now imagine drivers whizzing by him at speeds  of up to 70 miles per hour.

This will be the new reality for far too many construction workers if a dangerous and ill-advised package of bills (SB 895-898) becomes law. These bills would  revamp Michigan’s speed limit laws.

They will mean speeding big rigs – as trucks would be able to legally drive 10 miles an hour faster – and more people being killed in truck accidents. And they will mean more construction workers being seriously injured and killed as they’re picked off by cars driving at faster speeds through work zones.

Today,  I’d like to delve into the construction zone portion of this proposed legislation.

Under current law, (MCL 257.627(9), the mandatory maximum work zone speed limit “on a highway” is 45 mph, unless MDOT, a county road commission or local authority has set and posted different speed limit.

But for some odd reason, Senators Rick Jones (R-24th District), Tom Casperson (R-38th District) and John Pappageorge (R-13th District) want drivers to go even faster. Here’s what they’re proposing:

  • The work zone speed limit on a highway may be decreased  no more than 10 mph below the normally posted speed limit “for that highway segment” – and cannot be decreased to less than 30 miles per hour. (SB 896, Pages 5 and 6)
  • The work zone speed limit on a “limited access freeway” may be decreased to 60 mph, but only if “a single lane of traffic remains open for highway traffic.” (SB 896, Page 6)
  • If construction workers are present, the work zone speed limit on a “limited access freeway” may be decreased to 45 mph, but only if the following conditions apply:
  1. Workers are in close proximity to a barrel line or cone line;
  2. Workers are not protected by a barrier wall or guardrail;
  3. A sign is posted noting the presence of workers;
  4. The lower speed limit only applies to the immediate area where workers are located. (SB 896, Page 6)

Why are construction zone crashes more dangerous?

As an attorney, I’ve helped many people who have been injured in construction zone accidents.  I’ve seen the dire consequences that  occur when people lose their patience, drive distracted and yes, speed in construction work zones.

In 2012, there were 3,689 crashes in construction zones with 12 fatalities and 495 injuries, according to data from Michigan Traffic Crash Facts.

I find this package of legislation  absolutely senseless. I don’t understand why we’re loosening our existing laws (laws that have reduced construction zone accidents by 28% between 2010-12, and reduced fatalities and serious injuries by 42% and 60% respectively) to now allow drivers to go faster and put the lives of construction workers and other motorists in greater danger.

It’s not just construction workers – more motorists are injured in construction zone accidents than road workers

Believe it or not, more people driving in cars  are injured in construction accidents than are the construction workers who work in these dangerous work zones.

These laws protect you too.

Most drivers are bad at judging the speed that other cars are traveling.

Construction zone crashes often occur because we judge speed based upon gaps, and when we misperceive these gaps, other motorists abruptly slow down and come to quick stops.

This happens when the orange cones appear.  That gap distance between cars disappears much faster than drivers expect. And especially if a driver is speeding or not paying attention because he is texting or driving distracted, he will be unable to slow down in time without smashing into the car in front.

Here’s a news story on construction car accidents. The reporter interviewed me as an attorney and legal expert, and my client Angela Haynes, who was rear-ended and nearly killed in work zone crash is interviewed in the story.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the proposed penalties for speeding in construction  zones according to these new Senate Bills. Hint: While the speed limits are higher, the penalties speeding are lower.

Related information:

7 safety tips on driving through construction zones

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by Chris Waits

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