Summer, Construction, Distraction: A Lethal Combination in Work Zones

Workers are putting their lives on the line, and drivers need to start paying attention.

Bridget Ballek
May 20, 2019

“The last thing he said to me was, ‘I’ll see you, Sunday, sweetheart.’ The next Sunday I saw him, it was in his coffin.”

Karen Torres shares a story no one wants to tell, about a life that was stolen from her because of someone else’s careless decision. On Friday, March 16, 2006, Karen’s father, Patrick Mapleson, was killed on the side of the road while performing his highway maintenance duties filling potholes. A man in a cement truck reached down to grab his water bottle, veered off the road and hit Patrick.

“The driver of the cement truck told me that when he looked back up he and my father locked eyes, then he ran him over and my dad was killed instantly,” Karen said.

Construction workers put themselves at risk when going to work every day. According to the National Safety Council database, Injury Facts, the construction sector has the highest rate of preventable fatal work injuries. Construction workers account for 10% of nonfatal pedestrian vehicle incidents and 19% of all fatal pedestrian incidents.That means 1 out of every 5 pedestrians killed in motor vehicle incidents are in the construction industry.

In 2017, 59 construction workers were killed by vehicles while performing job duties. That’s 59 stories like Karen’s of family members losing someone too soon. These people go to work every day and wonder if they will make it home. This should not be the cost of doing business. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that we do not harm the next pedestrian we lock eyes with.

Memorial Day weekend is a particularly deadly time given the increase in motor vehicle travel. The increase in summertime construction zones creates a potentially deadly combination, so drivers need to pay extra attention to their surroundings. At least 380 fatalities are expected over the holiday weekend.

In a recent NSC survey, more than 1 in 10 drivers said they have struck or nearly struck a first responder or emergency vehicle. Like first responders, construction workers are at high risk when it comes to roadside collisions, and distracted driving increases the risk. In many states it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a construction zone. But whether it is legal or not, all distractions are potentially deadly.

When traveling for a few days to kick off the summer season, pay careful attention to those putting their lives on the line to do their job.They want to make it home to their family and friends as well.

“Every time I get in my car, it’s the first thing I think of,” says Karen Torres. “I think of him every day.”

Patrick was killed on St. Patrick’s Day by someone who wasn’t paying attention. It is up to each and every person driving to make the choice to slow down, put away the distractions and just drive.

Bridget Ballek

Bridget Ballek is the former public relations manager at the National Safety Council.

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