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BETTER DRIVER: Use caution when passing through work zones

Canadian traffic warning sign - Double two reverse curve to the left. This sign is used in Ontario.
Canadian traffic warning sign - Double two reverse curve to the left. This sign is used in Ontario. - Contributed

We seem to have two seasons in Canada — winter and road construction/repair. The entire highway system is under repair with plenty of new construction thrown in as well.

The good news is that there will be less possibility of destroying a wheel or damaging a suspension system on a bottomless pothole. The bad news is an even greater likelihood of highway workers being struck by passing motorists.

Common sense tells us to use caution when approaching or traveling through these areas. But, many motorists are too self-involved or distracted to do so.

Most investigations into these terrible incidents reveal speed to be the chief cause, but that can be further broken down into ignorance or failing to recognize the scene before it was too late.

The industry that does this road work has to shoulder a small part of the blame. Most motorists have come to expect a plethora of warning signs well in advance of a work site only to come across no work.

Leaving the signs in place over-night, over a weekend, during extended lunch hours and at other times when work is not taking place is a costly example of “crying wolf.”

All too many motorists expect that when they arrive at the actual scene, nobody will be there so they continue at a normal or only slightly abated pace.

Of course this is wrong, terribly wrong. But so is running red lights, speeding through school zones and any number of other illegal driving practices that go largely un-punished.

The industry has been getting better in this respect and the difference seems to the company contracted to do the work and/or provincial enforcement policies — either in patrolling sites to ensure the contractor has covered or lowered the signs during periods when personnel and equipment are not on the site.

Or enforcement of “fines are doubled in work areas.” During two separate trips, I drove through five provinces and in three of them noticed signs covered up when no work was taking place and the road was clear. But in the other two there were dozens of signs leading up to a supposed work site, but no personnel or equipment — or sign of any recent work. In both cases, it looked as though there should and could be repair — a badly pock-marked bridge deck and a pot-holed stretch of road — but no workers or equipment anywhere in site.

Having said that, it is irresponsible to suppose that there will be no people or equipment ahead when faced with warning signs. It is even more dangerous to proceed at an unabated speed in the assumption all will be clear.

It is difficult to explain the multiple cases where safety personnel holding warning signs are struck by motorists. These people are outfitted in brightly-colored warning vests, and holding large brightly-colored warning signs. “I didn’t see them” is not a viable excuse. “I did not see them in time,” would be more accurate. In other words, the driver was not paying attention. He or she was distracted. These safety people can readily recite repeated instances where they were almost struck by motorists who obviously didn’t see them — a sure sign these same drivers are putting other road users at risk.

Driver are not only endangering roadside workers when they ignore or fail to notice warning signs. There is also a strong possibility they will come upon a scene where the construction or repair is such that they are in danger of either going off the road or encountering a situation where they are unable to stop or take evasive action.

It is one thing to blatantly ignore warnings in the assumption nothing is ahead, and another to come across a bridge that is no longer there or a 100-tonne dozer in the middle or the road.

When you see temporary work zone signs, slow down and increase your attention levels in anticipation of stopping, slowing further, shifting lanes, yielding to workers or equipment and any number of other little surprises.

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