Raleigh - In its continuing efforts to improve safety for both its workers and drivers, 50 N.C. Department of Transportation leaders from across the state participated in a three-hour work zone safety summit this week in Raleigh.
The goal of the workshop was to review recent incidents in work zones and to discuss solutions to better protect employees and contractors, while also highlighting railroad safety awareness.
Governor Pat McCrory has brought attention to the importance of highway safety through a proclamation urging drivers to take extra care when driving through work zones.
"Our state is dedicated to enhancing work zone safety for both the highway worker and the travelling public," Governor McCrory said. "Keeping our roads safe is a shared responsibility, and all citizens must do their part."
This week's event was led by state transportation chief engineer Mike Holder, and featured presentations by representatives of the various departments within the transportation system.
There were more than 4,600 work zone crashes in North Carolina in 2015, resulting in 19 deaths and 2,475 people injured. Three of the fatalities were construction workers. Tragically, this year has seen 10 more fatalities, including two contractor employees, and over 1,000 injuries.
"Highway safety is one of Governor McCrory's top priorities," Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson said. "Our workers face real dangers in work zones everyday. It is important that we continue to look for ways to make these environments as safe as possible for not only the employees and contractors, but also for the drivers who pass through them."
At a roundtable discussion held during the session, there were a series of ideas reviewed to heighten safety in work zones. Those included the increased use of mobile truck-mounted and concrete safety barriers in work areas, and increased training of best practices for workers. Additional measures will increase public awareness efforts to remind drivers to stay off under construction roads that are closed, and a continuing effort to highlight the dangers of distracted driving.
"We scheduled this summit as a way to look at how the NCDOT can improve safety in our work zones in the wake of recent incidents and tragedies," Holder said. "It was held to brainstorm the means and methods that we can implement to prevent accidents from occurring again."
In 2014, NCDOT launched a partnership Move Over' campaign. Under the Move Over law, motorists are required to move over one lane, if possible, or reduce their speed when approaching emergency, or any other public service vehicle working within 12 feet of the side of the road with flashing or amber lights. Violating the law could result in a minimum $250 fine plus court costs.
And the NCDOT is reminding motorists to "Drive Smart. Do Your Part" and to expect the unexpected in work zones. Drivers can decrease the likelihood of an incident by following these rules:
Respect the work zone signs, flaggers, and warnings;
Turn on your headlights;
Stay in one lane;
Don't drive distracted - put down the phone, don't eat while you drive;
Don't drink and drive;
Obey posted speed limits;
Watch for workers;
Rail Safety Highlighted
During the session, attendees also reviewed safety practices related to the state's rail system. North Carolina currently has 30 independent railroad companies operating on 5,000 miles of track in 86 counties.
So far in 2016, 10 people have been struck and killed in North Carolina because they were trespassing on railroad tracks. Twenty people were killed in both 2014 and 2015.
Under Governor McCrory's leadership, NCDOT is improving rail safety through crossing improvements and educational outreach through its BeRailSafe Program, a railroad crossing safety initiative.
"You may think that you can easily hear a train coming, but trains are actually quieter than you think," Rail Division Director Paul Worley said. "This is especially important to remember in this day and age, when a larger number of pedestrians are distracted."
All trespassing deaths and incidents can be avoided. It is never OK to walk on railroad tracks - always cross tracks at a designated location such as an at-grade crossing, a bridge or an underpass.
Railroad tracks -and the land along them, known as the right of way- are privately owned by the railroad companies. Being on the railroad tracks is trespassing and can result in an arrest or fine.
In order to avoid confusion and to streamline response when an incident occurs on or near the tracks, federal emergency notification signs are required at rail crossings nationwide. The signs are blue in color and are posted either on crossing signals or underneath crossbuck signs. Information posted on the signs includes a 1-800 number to call if a train is needed to stop in advance due to an emergency situation.
The railroad emergency response system uses crossing numbers, rather than street names, which are also listed on the blue signs.
The Rail Division is also urging law enforcement officers to use the emergency notification signs when conducting investigations or working near rail lines.
While NCDOT has implemented these rail safety practices, it is also up to motorists to do their part when they reach an intersection that contains a railroad track.
Drivers can decrease the likelihood of an incident on a rail line by following these rules:
Always expect a train at every highway-rail intersection.
Never drive around lowered gates. It's illegal and deadly.
Trains always have the right-of-way, even over police, fire and ambulance vehicles.
Never stop a car on the railroad tracks. If you stop to wait for a train at a traffic signal, always stop safely behind the white line.
Don't assume that trains can stop quickly to avoid a collision. It takes a train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile to stop - that's more than 18 football fields.