Originally created 04/08/01

Work-zone deaths plague Georgia



Yet another roadwork site claimed a victim Thursday, further cementing Georgia's status as a state with one of the highest number of work-zone fatalities in the country.

James Allen Jr., a 59-year-old man from Blythe, died instantly after a logging truck speeding through a construction zone on Deans Bridge Road lost control and hit his car head-on, authorities said.

According to Department of Transportation records, Georgia had 91 of the 868 highway work-zone fatalities that occurred nationwide in 1999 - the third most in the nation. Only Texas, with 132, and California, with 112, reported more deaths that year.

The 2000 figures are not looking much better. With 80 percent of the data compiled, 74 deaths have been reported in Georgia. The two work-zone deaths in Richmond County that occurred in 1999 and 2000 were the result of car accidents on Bobby Jones Expressway.

To bring attention to the problem, Gov. Roy Barnes has dedicated this week to work-zone safety. On Monday, transportation officials from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland will travel to Washington to help kick off the National Work Zone Safety Awareness campaign.

Absent-minded drivers seem to be the cause of many of the accidents, transportation officials say. The danger increases near the work sites because motorists don't slow down and adjust to the new road conditions.

"No matter how many barricades, cones or flashing signs, one motorist coming through who's not paying attention can definitely change the situation," said Mike Thomas, a DOT district engineer. "We want people to realize that when you're in a work zone - whether there's activity or not - it is a changed (driving) situation."

The risk has increased in Georgia as more construction projects appear on the road. While workers are in vulnerable positions, laboring on the side of the highway as tractor-trailers and motorists whiz by, drivers account for three out of every four of the state's work-zone fatalities, Mr. Thomas said.

Public awareness has become a cornerstone of the state DOT's safety campaign, which the department launched in April 2000.

The campaign includes legislation passed last year that increases fines for speeding violations and strengthens the legal definition of work zones.

All this week, orange ribbons will be tied around DOT trucks, and safety experts will make public appearances with the campaign's mascot, Coneman, in tow.

Motorists also will begin seeing messages on DOT work signs reminding them that the speeding fines have doubled and that road workers have families to go home to.

One noticeable change on the highways will be new fluorescent lime-green safety vests, which DOT workers and contractors statewide are starting to wear.

Where the orange mesh vests previously worn by DOT workers had gaps on each side, the new ones completely wrap around the body, allowing workers to be seen regardless of their body position. They also have 2-inch silver reflective stripes around the upper torso and over the shoulders.

Although road construction on Bobby Jones Expressway has ended for now, Rusty Merritt, a DOT area engineer, said maintenance crews routinely work on the side of the area's highways.

Roadwork currently is taking place along sections of Tobacco Road, U.S. Highway 1 and River Watch Parkway, he added.

"People need to remember," he said, "that we put our construction work signs up there because it tells them there's a change of environment."

State numbers

States with the most highway work-zone fatalities during 1999:

Texas: 132

California: 112

Georgia: 91

Tennessee: 42

Indiana: 30

Florida: 30

Arizona: 29

New York: 25

Nebraska: 22

Pennsylvania: 20

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.or Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109.