A 33-year-old construction worker who was killed September 17th when he was struck by a semi-truck in an Interstate 55 construction zone became the 22nd person – and third construction worker – to die in a work zone crash this year, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The post-crash investigation resulted in the driver being ticketed for failing to stop in a construction area, making an improper turn and disobeying a traffic control device. This latest incident spotlights a serious problem on Illinois highways: the extreme indifference of some drivers to the heightened standard of safety and awareness required when driving through a construction work zone.
While all motorists owe a duty to anyone they may encounter on the road to safely operate their vehicles, drivers who operate the massive semi-trucks that dominate our highways should be doubly cautious at all times when operating their trucks anywhere, but especially in work zones. Much of the time, highway construction zones are narrow, on uneven pavement and full of construction workers whose presence may be concealed by construction materials or machinery. This type of situation makes the navigation of larger vehicles more complicated. However, the call to operate with heightened caution and care in work zones does not always reach the intended recipients, and the death toll for this year is the unfortunate proof of that. In addition to the death of the worker on I-55, two other workers lost their lives this year after being struck by semi-trucks in Illinois construction zones. On September 8, a 34-year-old worker was killed by a grain truck from which witnesses say he desperately ran to avoid after the grain truck driver swerved quickly in the worker’s direction in southeastern Illinois. Another worker fatality occurred on July 30, when a 50-year-old man was killed after being struck by a semi-truck while he was attempting to return to his vehicle on I-70. All three of these workers were employed to construct and repair highways, and all three lost their lives to semi-drivers who failed to observe the care required when driving through the clearly marked work zones. What is glaringly tragic about these and many other similar occurrences is that they didn’t have to happen at all.
We’ve all seen the signs on state highways that warn of upcoming construction work zones. They are usually fluorescent orange and followed by other signs that detail a reduced speed limit ahead, and also the harsh penalties imposed on a driver who injures or kills a worker. However, despite these notifications, many drivers this year have failed to heed those warning signs, and as a result at least 22 people have lost their lives. If one positive thing can come out of these recent, news-worthy tragedies, one can only hope that it is drivers making the decision to proceed carefully and cautiously when they observe upcoming construction zones.