Increased Indiana Highway Construction Could Mean More Accidents in the New Year

barricade.jpgIndiana is in the midst of a massive 10-year highway construction development blitz, but given a poor nationwide record of enforcing work zone safety standards, personal injury lawyers here will be concerned about the increased risk of accidents and injuries from these development efforts.

In 2006, the Indiana Department of Transportation introduced Major Moves, a highway development plan that includes at least 200 new highway construction projects and 200 preservation projects across Indiana. The plan was initiated as part of efforts to boost development, facilitate easier transportation and generate jobs. All that has been great, but the plan has also meant dozens of highway projects active across the state, at any given time.

It’s not the inconvenience to motorists that bothers Indiana personal injury lawyers. Rather, it’s the fact that in Indiana and across the country, we have failed to enforce strict safety standards at highway construction work zones. As this report in the New York Times points out, over the past 5 years alone, 4,700 people have been killed and 200,000 people have been injured in accidents in highway work zones across the country.

Not all these accidents were caused by speeding motorists racing through a work zone. Most accidents were caused because construction contractors:

• Failed to place sufficient and clear warning signs informing motorists of construction
• Failed to place concrete barriers • Failed to follow proper procedures for placement of unused construction equipment
• Failed to make correct lane markings to allow for safe movement of vehicles

Highway work zone safety is one of those issues that seem to exist in a state of limbo. There are few national standards for work zone safety if any, and these differ vastly from state to state. Enforcement can be poor, and even when violations are found, there are laughably low penalties imposed on contractors. That means there is little incentive for contractors to follow zone safety laws. Contractors not surprisingly, may prioritize cost cutting rather than safety protocols, with sometimes devastating consequences. Worst of all, there is no system in place that prevents “problem contractors” with a history of work zone safety violations from simply being hired again. These contractors take up other projects where they continue to commit the same violations all over the again.

The Indiana Department of Transportation website shows how dangerous highway work zones can be.

• In 2007, the last year for which figures are available, there were 3,256 accidents in construction zones in Indiana, and these contributed to 7 deaths and 835 injuries.
• Out of every 5 people killed in a highway work zone, 4 are motorists.
• One out of every 3 accidents in an Indiana work zone is a rear impact collision.
• The most dangerous areas in a highway work zone are those where traffic is entering or leaving the work zone.

As federal stimulus funds continue to flow in from President Obama’s stimulus package, more infrastructure projects are expected to be launched in Indiana. As Indiana personal injury attorneys, we believe that infrastructure development must be accompanied by the establishment of stronger work zone safety rules that protect motorists and highway workers, and strict enforcement of these rules.