How to Stay Safe While Trucking Through Road Construction Zones

Spring and summer are on the horizon, creating more traffic as families take vacations. The weather also begins the construction season for road crews. They’ll make repairs and build extensions, adding to the seasonal congestion. The construction zones also create numerous hazards, especially for truck drivers. By learning about the dangers and the ways to avoid them, you’ll keep yourself and others safe. 

Why Are Construction Zones Potentially Dangerous for Truckers?

Work zones cause lane changes and closures, sudden speed shifts, and narrow roads. Semis are large and have limited maneuverability, making navigating around obstructions a challenge at first. Be watchful for inattentive motorists when the lanes narrow and when they open up again. The traffic change can increase the potential for accidents, even for seasoned truck drivers. 

Approximately 65% of fatal tractor-trailer-involved work zone collisions occur during the day, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The same study also reports that 60% of crashes occur on divided roads, and 70% occur on level roadways. However, straight roads are the most dangerous, with 90% of fatal crashes occurring in their construction zones. 

What Are the Sections of a Roadway Work Zone? 

Every roadway project has four sections that can lead to different types of accidents:

  • Warning Area: The first area should have signs or flaggers to alert all drivers to slow down due to the work zone ahead. An inattentive driver in front of you may not notice the advanced warnings, forcing them to slow suddenly, potentially causing a rear-end or fixed-object collision.
Truck Driver
  • Transition Area: In the transition area, traffic repositions due to detours or merging lanes. Rear-end and fixed-object crashes are possible, as are angle collisions at turns or intersections.
  • Activity Area: This is the actual section where the work is taking place and has the same potential for fixed-object, angle, and rear-end crashes. Head-on collisions are also possible, often with equipment or workers coming from the buffer space.
  • Termination Area: At the termination area, the traffic decompresses again. Truckers are potentially vulnerable to rear-end crashes if drivers overcompensate with speed or disperse without properly surveying the surrounding vehicles.

What Are Common Causes of Construction Zone Trucking Accidents?

1. Distracted Driving

Truck drivers face the same distractions as other motorists. They usually include calls, texts, radio changes, eating, adjusting controls, and GPS monitoring. It’s best to minimize these distractions and focus only on the road.

Truckers are also at a higher likelihood of fatigue from driving long distances to make deliveries on time. However, they’re given ample breaks and rest time that won’t interfere with deadlines. During CDL training, new drivers will learn how to manage their time and stay fresh on the road. 

2. High Speeds

Truck Driver

A fully-loaded tractor-trailer needs more time and space to come to a complete stop. Once the brakes are applied, a passenger vehicle going 65MPH will need 316 feet to stop fully. Semis going at the same speed may need 525 feet or more, according to Drivers undergoing CDL training are given on-the-road practice to make early braking second nature. 

3. Insufficient Warnings

By law, construction crews must warn approaching vehicles using barrels, signs, and cones. If they fail to provide the warning, the likelihood of a crash increases. Should you or your vehicle take damage, you won’t be held responsible. Instead, the municipality and contracting company would be liable. While states have different safety regulations, most laws require road crews to have:

  • An adequate flagger.
  • Advanced warning signs.
  • Clear, unobstructed lane divisions.
  • Debris and heavy equipment warnings.
  • Lighting structures that increase drivers’ vision.
  • Reasonable lane-narrowing that will still allow drivers to maneuver safely. 

All drivers should also be aware that some road projects may cause sand, debris, and gravel to blow around the area. The road workers are supposed to keep the particles contained and aimed away from traffic. If they aren’t following these procedures, they’ll decrease road visibility. Drive slowly to compensate for the reduction and report the incident. 

4. Sudden Changes

Site workers often operate heavy equipment. If they aren’t careful, the vehicle may dart out from the buffer space suddenly, giving drivers on the road little to no time to react. In the event of a crash, the site workers or the vehicle manufacturer would be at fault. When you notice road work signage, begin to slow down early, especially once the construction comes into view. The decreased speed will make it easier for the truck to stop should one of the workers act negligently or their equipment malfunctions. 

5. Merging Difficulties

In the transition area, traffic merges into fewer lanes. The shift can increase the odds of a crash, especially for truck drivers. The FHWA reports that a third of all truck-involved collisions occur in one of the semi’s No-Zones. These areas are at the sides, front, and rear of the vehicle, where the trucker has no visibility. When combined with lane narrowing from work sites, the risk of side-impact crashes will increase. 

What Are Safety Tips for Truckers Driving Through Road Construction Zones? 

Look for Workers

Truck Driver

A slower pace passing through construction zones will benefit everyone on the road, including the workers. They may accidentally leave the buffer space or operate outside of it to help guide vehicles. Whether they’re meant to be there or not, their presence is a dangerous one. People and cars that are too close may enter the front No-Zone area of the semi. Keeping a deliberate pace will allow others to notice your vehicle and keep their distance. 

Watch for Signs

A semi truck’s height can be beneficial. The elevation allows truck drivers to see and adapt to road obstructions sooner. This advantage can also help the other drivers, who will notice your changes and become aware of the work zone ahead.

Maintain Your Distance

When vehicles travel too closely, the reduced visibility negatively impacts reaction time. Always maintain a distance between your semi and other vehicles on the road, including other trucks. If they are traveling ahead, they can unintentionally interfere with your view. 

All drivers should avoid tailgating, especially when traveling through work sites. The proximity of other vehicles, the road crew, and their equipment can make that difficult, but there is a solution. Your truck’s height will give you enough time to shift and situate yourself in the correct lane ahead of the closures. 

However, other drivers may not notice the signs soon enough. Some may begin tailgating or attempt to race ahead of your truck to merge elsewhere. It’s best to let the tailgaters pass ahead rather than allow them to continue to be a hazard on the road.

You can also avoid tailgating by doubling your following distance when approaching the work zone, preventing a rear-end collision. 

Increase Your Visibility

Commercial trucks need increased visibility to compensate for their No-Zones, especially when driving through a worksite where drivers are most prone to tailgating. You can enhance your visibility and safety by investing in or upgrading your mirrors, headlights, and reflectors. 

Routinely inspect the mirrors to ensure a secure attachment. Loose mirrors tend to vibrate when the truck is in motion, decreasing visibility. Over time, the mirrors can even fall off, creating a significant driving hazard. On inspection, make sure the mirrors don’t have any give and only move how they were intended. 

Position the side-view mirrors to show the edge of the cab, the trailer’s side, and most of the lanes on both sides of the semi. Each side mirror should supplement the others, benefiting all-around visibility. 

Truckers can also minimize the size of their blind spots with hood mirrors. They’ll improve the view of the hood, cab, and sleeper on both sides. Adding an above-door mirror enhances your view of the blind spot that’s below the passenger door, as well. 

LED headlights increase brightness and reduce glare without obstructing the view of drivers in the oncoming lane. The visibility benefits everyone who will be in a better position to notice work zones that lack proper signage. 

Reflectors will help other drivers notice your vehicle when merging in the transition area and when traffic opens up after the termination area. 

For over 40 years, Hamrick School’s accredited CDL program has emphasized the safety of its students. From navigating streets and merging to adapting to sudden changes, you’ll drive safely and confidently. The school is also known throughout Medina, OH, for its high-quality courses and convenient scheduling. Once you graduate, your instructors will help you find your first trucking position. For more information on their financial aid and assistance for military veterans, visit their website or call them at (330) 239-2229.

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