Maryland wants you to drive safe in work zones

Laurie Moser, whose husband died in a work zone in 2007, talks about safety. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

WHITE MARSH, Md. — Throughout the past 14 months, nine people have died in Maryland work zones, including five highway workers.

At an event kicking off Maryland Work Zone Safety Awareness Month, state transportation officials, police and the wife of a highway worker killed in 2007 spoke about why drivers need to be safe in work zones.

“Every time I receive word that there’s been another highway death, my heart just stops. I think of what the families are about to experience, the journey they’re about to experience without their consent or control,” says Laurie Moser.

Her husband, Rick Moser, died in Frederick County in a work zone crash near U.S. 340 and Interstate 70 in June 2007. She says she’ll never forget the day it happened.

“A state highway representative and a trooper came to the house and I was not home at the time. My 20-year-old daughter received the news. I regret that to this day,” says Moser.

Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Bruce Gartner feels for Moser and all families affected when someone dies in a work zone crash.

“I can’t even imagine. I’m a father myself. She’s raising children on her own. Your hearts go out to people in those situations. It’s a difficult thought to know this is preventable and we need to do more,” he says.

Rick Moser’s death is just one of a growing trend of deadly work zone crashes. In January, a pickup truck hit and killed contract worker John C. Kahl on the Baltimore Beltway near Liberty Road. In June 2013, contractor Erick Meekins was killed on Maryland 216, near Interstate 95 in Laurel.

“Why are work zones so dangerous? You can see many of the challenges. Things like the equipment we’re standing around, the noise we’re experience, the concrete barrier that surrounds you, narrowed lanes, no shoulder, uneven pavement, and new traffic patterns. These dangers threaten drivers and our workers who stand next to them, protected with only a hard hat and a vest,” says Melinda Peters, Maryland State Highway Administrator.

Since 2009, there have been more than 8,350 work zone related crashes in Maryland with about 4,060 injuries to drivers, passengers and workers. According to the SHA, most work zone crashes are rear-end collisions and about 80-percent of the injuries are actually to motorists.

“The last 14 months have been a very tough period for us. That’s why today is so important, continuing to remind drivers that it’s not okay to speed through a work zone, it’s not okay to be distracted and talking on your phone or texting,” says Peters.

“If anyone out there could make a difference, it’s the driver. The driver has ultimate control of the vehicle and can stop and think about what they’re doing. Troopers and highway workers call the side of the road their office,” says Lt. Roland Butler of Maryland State Police.

Speed cameras are one tool that these agencies use to keep work zones safe. As WTOP has reported, work zone speed camera tickets were down in 2013, despite the jump in fatalities.

Under Maryland law, drivers can get speed cameras in work zone for going 12 mph or more over the limit. Most work zone speed cameras are mounted to the front of a Jeep or similar small SUV. However, critics don’t like that these cameras can ticket drivers even when workers aren’t present.

“The whole point is to slow down, whether there are workers or not because the driver is encountering more danger just driving through a work zone. So it doesn’t matter if there are workers there or not, you need to slow down,” says Peters.

Moser hopes people get the message as the spring season begins.

“I thought about Rick so much this winter and how often I worried about him being out on the job in the harsh weather. But what an irony that he was killed on a clear summer day. We never realized the risk is just as great in perfect weather. There is no safe day out there,” she says.

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