The ice and snow are melting away after one of the worst winters on record, but truck drivers understand the threat of the other Canadian season that is now upon us. It’s called construction season.
Overnight, construction zones can emerge as quickly as any storm front ever could.
Within a few kilometres of the first warning sign, well-travelled lanes can disappear behind walls of jersey barriers, flag people and construction equipment.
All the traffic will slow down to a crawl, and any hope of a Just-in-Time delivery will evaporate like the steam that rises from a freshly applied layer of asphalt.
It can be a frustrating – and dangerous – situation.
According to research conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), work zones represent a particular risk to commercial vehicles. Trucks may account for just over 10% of the traffic on the highway, but they also account for one-quarter of fatal construction zone incidents.
And while commercial vehicles usually account for 17% of the collisions that involve at least two vehicles, they are involved in 31% of such collisions that occur in work zones.
These numbers indicate only part of the problem. After all, the statistics may not reflect many of the collisions that happen outside an officially-marked work area, even if the appearance of a construction zone was responsible for a sudden change in vehicle speeds.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about the overall risk. As the lanes begin to disappear, some motorists refuse to merge with other traffic until the last possible minute.
Despite the visible markings that exist, they appear determined to squeeze into any space that remains. (Assuming they are paying attention in the first place). And the most common form of collision involves one vehicle sideswiping another.
The challenges will be particularly apparent to those who haul oversized loads and have trouble fitting within a standard 12-foot lane. In a construction zone, an active lane might be as little as 10 feet wide, and that will force oversized vehicles to cross the all-important center line throughout the work area.
The best defensive tool for any truck driver will come in the form of information that warns about pending construction work. This can require dispatchers to keep in touch with government hotlines that announce the timing of the projects, and distribute any related information over satellite units as soon as possible. But, sometimes, we need to recognize that this might not be enough. News of last-minute road repairs may need to come from local radio reports and be shared by truckers over the cell phone or CB.
Everybody plays a role in giving fellow truckers a chance to alter routes, inform customers about potential delays, or avoid the lastminute steering corrections that can cause a rollover.
In terms of actions at the wheel, drivers need to embrace all of their well-honed defensive driving techniques. Indeed, the appearance of a work zone’s warning sign indicates that it is time to gear down and be prepared to stop. Narrowing and disappearing lanes will also require drivers to leave a little extra space between their bumper and the vehicle in front of them.
Since a significant number of work zone collisions involve rearend crashes, it is particularly important for drivers to keep a close eye on the reflections in their West Coast mirrors, while maintaining the all-important escape route in case another motorist begins to squeeze into their lane.
Ignoring such defensive driving practices will come at a cost – both in the form of potential collisions and steeper penalties. If workers are on the job in an Ontario construction zone, for example, an extra 30 km/h of speed could be met with a $420 fine and four demerit points. By ignoring the signals from a flag person, a driver could face a $500 fine and three points.
We all need to accept that the challenges of construction zones are hardly about to end anytime soon. North America’s infrastructure will continue to crumble, and that means last-minute repairs will continue to be a reality.
We may not be able to predict the amount of snow that will fall next winter, but we can be certain that the challenges of construction season will be with us from one year to the next.
– This month’s expert is Scott Creighton, advisor in the safety and training services department. Scott has more than 20 years of experience as a driver and a safety supervisor including 18 years working for an over-dimensional carrier. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.