AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is raising awareness about traffic deaths in work zones.
TxDOT said that, in 2021, work zone traffic deaths in Texas increased 33% over the previous year. The overall number of crashes in highway construction and maintenance areas also rose significantly to more than 26,000.
On Thursday, ahead of National Work Zone Awareness Week, TxDOT officials held a press conference against a backdrop of 244 orange traffic cones and 244 pairs of white shoes representing the people killed in work zone traffic crashes in 2021. The officials were joined by law enforcement and safety advocates to urge drivers to slow down and be cautious when driving through highway construction areas.
PHOTOS: National Work Zone Awareness Week
TxDOT said that drivers and their passengers accounted for the majority of the 244 deaths in Texas work zone crashes last year. A total of 195 motorists or vehicle passengers were killed, along with 38 pedestrians, four bicyclists and three roadside construction workers. TxDOT said speeding and driver inattention were among the leading causes of crashes.
“It’s cause for tremendous concern that the number of people killed on our roadways reached a 40-year high last year and fatalities in our workzones rose dramatically,” TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams said. “It’s important for drivers to remember that driving conditions in work zones can be especially challenging because of extra congestion, slow-moving heavy equipment, temporary barriers and vehicles that make sudden stops. That’s why it’s crucial for everyone to give driving their full attention and drive a safe speed in areas where construction and maintenance are underway.”
As part of its “Be Safe. Drive Smart." campaign, TxDOT is also reminding Texans of the state's "Move Over/Slow Down" law, which requires drivers to move over a lane or reduce their speed to 20 mph below the posted limit when they approach a TxDOT vehicle, emergency vehicle, tow truck or utility vehicle stopped with flashing lights active on the side of the road.
TxDOT said that traffic fines double in work zones when workers are present and can cost up to $2,000.
Deadly work zone crashes aren't alone in their increase. KVUE reported in February that 2021 was the deadliest year on record on Austin roads. At least 116 total traffic deaths were recorded in Austin last year.
The Austin Transportation Department said that the leading causes of deadly crashes in Austin include speeding, distracted driving, impairment and failure to yield. A lieutenant with the Austin Police Department's Highway Enforcement Command and Vehicular Homicide Unit told KVUE that his team responded to an average of three or four crash scenes every week in 2021.
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