With road construction hitting its peak during the summer months, more drivers are passing by flashing lights and damaged cars as car wrecks increase in construction zones.
"There's just so many little things that could happen that might cause an accident if you don't give your full attention to these areas," said Kenna Mitchell of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
Last year, 17 people were killed in work zone collisions in Oklahoma, according to ODOT data. A record number of 767 injuries related to the 1,278 work zone collisions also occurred throughout the state in 2009.
With more than 50 road construction projects underway in the Tulsa area, ODOT is working to ensure this increased amount of work does not lead to an increased amount of injuries on the road, Mitchell said.
However, several accidents have already occurred in these construction zones this year as drivers collide into barriers, dug-out work sites and other vehicles. Out of the 942 work zone crashes statewide this year, 319 of them have been in Tulsa with one fatality and 133 possible injuries, according to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. In some instances, drivers have even tried to go around barricades to pass through construction zones, typically ending with a vehicle stuck in the mess and the driver stuck in jail.
ODOT checks signs regularly to keep accidents like this from happening, Mitchell said. At six of the eight major construction sites, digital message boards alert drivers about nearby construction zones and warn of possible delays. Speed limits are also reduced in many areas to keep drivers safe.
"In some of our contracts, we also have it where we can have law enforcement -- highway patrol -- come through and help us," she said. "When people see there are law enforcement in the area, they magically become better drivers. Everyone begins putting on their seatbelts and slowing down and paying attention to the road."
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain Chris West said drivers must be more attentive when driving through construction areas.
"Most people make the mistake of driving through construction zones as if they aren't construction zones," he said. "People are following too closely, changing lanes too quickly and speeding."
These actions not only lead to drivers' injuries, but also put construction workers in danger. This past June, two construction workers were killed near Yukon when a driver swerved off the road, hitting and killing the employees at the scene.
After working in the construction business for decades, Tony McKellar has seen similar horror stories, he said.
"We've seen it happen," said McKellar, Manhattan Road and Bridge's corporate safety director. "We don't want to see it happen again."
Companies like Manhattan train employees for these dangerous situations.
"Workers must be very aware of their surroundings at all times," he said. "What if you were working at your desk ... and your desk was sitting in the middle of a rodeo ring with wild bulls all over the place?
Well, you'd have to do your work and also always be looking over your shoulder. That's the way our workers have to work."
McKellar oversees the safety in busy construction projects throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states, with many bridge projects in the Tulsa area, including sites at 163rd and I-44, Harvard Ave. and I-44 and multiple areas throughout the Inner Dispersal Loop. He said he has witnessed wrecks in construction sites this year but is surprised he has not seen major accidents with the amount of congestion in these work zones.
Although he understands the frustration felt by drivers in these work sites, people must focus on the road as well as the construction nearby.
"Those signs out there are not only law, they are good advice," he said.
Even though signs often warn drivers of upcoming changes, McKellar said he admits maneuvering through work zones can sometimes be confusing.
"If you do see construction and you're unsure of where to go, simply slow down," he said.
Minimizing distractions helps drivers focus, too, Mitchell said.
"Put down the cell phone," she said. "A lot of people unfortunately try to drive and text. They may be getting into an area where lanes are a bit narrower or may be shifting. Just having that small distraction can lead to problems."
To completely avoid the distractions of construction zones, Mitchell said ODOT updates its traffic advisories section at odot.org at 4pm every day to advise drivers of ongoing projects and delays for the next day.
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