TxDOT officials urge motorists to slow down near work zones

It happened almost three years ago, but Texas Department of Transportation contractor Daryl Smith clearly remembered the event he said left him injured June 30, 2015.
While working on eastbound Highway 191 near Loop 250 a motorist steering a car collided into a utility vehicle that struck Smith and flung him 100 feet before Smith hit the ground and broke four ribs, he said.
Smith is grateful that he didn’t become another fatality for the state to record. Smith took eight to 10 weeks to recover from his injuries and get back on full-duty, TxDOT spokesman Gene Powell said.
Smith and Powell said they were uncertain about whether the motorist faced any stiff penalties for her suspected role in the collision.
“I had angels watching over me,” Smith said Thursday during a press conference at the parking lot of the Ector County Coliseum. “I’m glad not to be a statistic.”
Smith and a number of other colleagues and contractors attended the media event to urge all motorists to keep a watchful eye as well as to remain aware about road workers and work zones wherever they may be.
Thursday’s TxDOT event comes as National Work Zone Awareness Week concludes today with the state agency wanting to remind motorists that anytime they drive through a work zone requires caution as there can be more than 2,500 active TxDOT work zones at any given time, Powell said.
“We’re trying to raise awareness on how to approach the work zone,” Powell said. “(Motorists) need to be fully aware” of the workers and the zones they work in, Powell continued.
Powell cited some TxDOT statistics that bolstered the thrust behind the public message he wanted to convey.
In 2016, there were 199 work zone crashes in the 12-county Odessa district, among which there were five fatalities and several serious injuries. One of those fatalities involved a motorist, identified as Shelbi Couch, who reportedly did not observe the work zone convoy on a stretch of Highway 302 and struck a 19-year-old road worker on Aug. 19, 2016, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported.
Coincidentally, work zone fatalities increased 27 percent in 2016 across the state, which resulted in 181 people getting killed, TxDOT statistics showed.
Of those fatalities, 174 of them (or 96 percent) were motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, the statistics read.
“The leading causes of fatal work zone crashes statewide —- speeding and failure to stay in a single lane —- are entirely preventable,” a TxDOT press release reported. “By law, drivers are required to move over or slow down when approaching work crews, emergency vehicles or tow trucks stopped on the roadside or shoulder with flashing blue or amber lights. Traffic fines in work zones double when workers are present and can cost up to $2,000.”
Most people wrongly believe that work zone crashes result in the deaths of contractors or workers but statistics have shown who are the real victims, said James Bass, TxDOT executive director in a prepared statement.
“Statistics show the vast majority of these fatalities are drivers like you and me who are passing through as motorists,” Bass said. “We urge you to pay attention and adhere to posted traffic signs when driving through work zones to ensure your safety and the safety of the men and women who are working on our roads. At the end of the day, we want everyone to return home safely to their loved ones.”
Daniel Hernandez, a TxDOT maintenance inspector, said he witnessed one of the work-zone related five fatalities that occurred last year.
A worker who was steering a vehicle that put on lane reflectors on a portion of westbound Interstate 20 was killed when a motorist behind the wheel of a vehicle collided into the worker’s vehicle, causing it to rollover, Hernandez recalled.
The worker, whose name Hernandez did not disclose, was thrown out on impact and died of his injuries about a week later, Hernandez said.
“Just whenever you see the (flashing) lights you slow down,” Hernandez said. “You got to slow down.”