SPRING AND summer are prime time for construction on Maryland's highways and byways. For those not paying attention to obscure news releases, I'm happy to announce that this is National Work Zone Awareness Week.
Nationwide, 1,181 people died in crashes in and around road construction zones in 2002 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). Of those deaths, 1,029 involved motor vehicle crashes. Perhaps the most eye-opening statistic is that four out of five people killed in work zones are not the workers - they are drivers and passengers, according to the American Traffic Safety Services Association.
It is a rare day that you can drive from point A to point B without encountering a construction or maintenance zone, a point emphasized by John White, manager of public relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
"Highway construction is here to stay and it is critically important for everyone to do their part to ensure safety on our roads," he said. "With the milder weather, millions of Americans will be getting into their vehicles and logging hundreds of vacation miles. At the same time, construction crews are logging hundreds of hours along the roadside."
The problem is, we aren't slowing down, and fatalities are increasing - by 70 percent nationally since 1997. The good news is that compared with a national average of 23.6 deaths in construction zones in 2002, Maryland's fatalities are relatively low. In Maryland that year, 17 people died in construction or maintenance zones, most as a result of motor vehicle crashes. That is still too many.
Here is what drivers can do to stay safe in construction zones:
Slow down. Drivers who are speeding cause most crashes in construction zones. Slower speeds allow more time to react when the unexpected happens.
Pay attention. In a construction zone, lanes are usually narrower and heavy machinery often lines the roadway.
Be patient. Work-zone crews are trying to improve your future travel, not to ruin a particular trip.
Minimize distractions. Turn off cell phones and avoid changing radio stations when driving in a construction zone.
Turn on your headlights. Lights enable oncoming traffic and workers to see your vehicle more easily.
Don't tailgate. Keep up with the traffic, but leave plenty of room between vehicles.
Perry Thorsvik e-mailed recently in response to my March 16 column about aggressive drivers. "A person is guilty of aggressive driving if the person commits THREE or more of the following offenses at the same time or during a single, continuous period of driving: [ignoring] traffic lights with steady indication, overtaking and passing vehicles, passing on right ... following too closely, failure to yield right-of-way and [speeding]," he said.
He is right. Mr. Thorsvik correctly noted that a person is guilty of aggressive driving only if he commits three or more of those offenses. However, the purpose of that column was to make drivers in denial more aware of their aggressive driving tendencies. A case in point: My father, bless him, is a maniac on the roads and will go to his grave denying it.
So, let's review. If you do more than one of the following habitually, you are an aggressive driver and you probably should rethink the attitude you assume when you slide behind the steering wheel: speeding, changing lanes without signaling your intent, tailgating, venting your frustrations behind the wheel, losing your cool at other drivers, purposely helping to box in another driver, swearing out loud at another driver, "racing the clock" to get to where you should have been five minutes ago.
The final comment about Senate Bill No. 233, which would prohibit new teen-age drivers from having teen-age passengers other than siblings in the car for the first six months of their licenses comes from Lisa Kawata. This legislation was first mentioned in the Feb. 24 Traffic Talk column.
"I do not support this bill. Although well-intentioned, this issue should [be] left to parents of the teens. All parents should lay down rules for their teen driver, which include that passengers must have permission of their parents to ride with a teen driver. Additionally, a law like this cannot be enforced. Will the police stop every driver with a passenger in a car and check IDs of passengers - who may not have any - or call parents to confirm siblings?" she said. "Speeders, DUIs, aggressive drivers and poor driving conditions have been proven to be more of a threat to all of us than the inexperience of a teen driver."
I agree with Ms. Kawata's points and concerns with the legislation. The only reason I support it is that it might get the parents of teen-agers to come to their senses and insist on eliminating as many distractions to their teen-age drivers as possible. As it stands, it seems most parents don't. If the bill passes, maybe they will.
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at firstname.lastname@example.org, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.