Driving on Highways
Highway Construction Zones

Highway Construction Zone Safety Rules: Road Signs, Speed Limit & Fines

Updated Aug. 31, 2020

Highway construction and maintenance projects are undertaken every year, across the United States. This work may involve making simple repairs to an over-used stretch of roadway, or at the opposite end of the scale, it could involve completely re-designing a road, intersection or interchange.

Highway construction zones could pop up anywhere at any time. While we are fortunate to live in a country where such improvements can be financed, they do present additional risks to drivers, other road users and the construction workers themselves.

Highway construction zone risks

Work zones are set up around highway construction and maintenance projects, to contain equipment, construction workers and the portion of road currently undergoing work. Detours or diversions will likely be set up to direct motorists around the construction zone. You may encounter signs, signal devices, cones and traffic control personnel, all in place to warn motorists and guide them around the work zone safely.

Keep the following risks in mind when navigating around a freeway construction zone:

  • Detours and the portion of the road being worked on may change daily. Do not assume that having driven around the work zone once, you can do so again without paying attention.
  • Construction workers and traffic control personnel may be in the road, often outside sectioned off “safe” areas.
  • Heavy concrete barriers may be set up around larger projects.
  • One or more lanes may be closed off with orange cones.
  • You will encounter a range of signs, signals and instructions that are not usually present in this area.
  • Other hazards – such as heavy equipment, large holes in the road surface and power lines – may be present.

To navigate through or around a highway construction zone safely, you must remain focused, proceed with caution and pay close attention to the traffic around you.

Reduced speed

Reducing speed around construction zones is critical, as you will need more time to process and respond to the information around you. Often, speed limit signs will be posted prior to and during the construction zone. Look out for these signs and stick well within the limit they set.

Accidents and collisions around highway construction areas are common. Always remember that any person occupying the roadway as a pedestrian will be at significantly greater risk of being injured or killed if they are involved in a collision with a vehicle. Cutting your speed is the best way to protect vulnerable road workers from harm.

Double fines

Between 1982 and 2014, roughly 750 people per year have been killed in work zone crashes around the United States. Most states have introduced higher fines for driving offenses committed in and around work zones, to encourage motorists to abide by the rules.

In some states, increased fines around work zones apply only to specific driving offenses – most commonly, speeding. In Colorado, Montana, Texas, New Jersey and several other states, the fines for all moving vehicle violations committed in work zones are doubled. Keep in mind that other factors may influence increased fines in work zones in your state, such as whether construction workers are present and whether warning signs are posted.

Full, locally-relevant details regarding work zone fines can be found in your state’s own driving manual. Be sure to check out this section of the handbook to make certain you have the correct information.

Safety rules

Keep the following rules in mind when driving around a construction or maintenance zone. Your safety and the safety of everyone else on the road depends on it.

  1. 1

    Slow down.
    This is the number-one rule. Keep an eye out for speed limit signs and workers occupying the road.

  2. 2

    Abide by all traffic control measures.
    Abide by all directions given by signs, signals and traffic control personnel.

  3. 3

    Be aware that work zones change frequently.
    Expect these changes and do not become complacent just because you drive through the same area regularly.

  4. 4

    Stay vigilant.
    Exercise extreme caution when driving through a work zone at night or when visibility is limited.

  5. 5

    Monitor the traffic around and in front of your vehicle.
    Be prepared to react to any possible danger.

  6. 6

    Merge early.
    If you must merge into a new lane to move around the work zone, do so as soon as possible.

  7. 7

    Alter your lane position to allow workers and equipment plenty of room.

  8. 8

    Increase your following distance without disrupting the flow of traffic.
    Allow extra space between your vehicle and potential obstacles, such as trucks, barriers, workers and construction equipment.

  9. 9

    Do not tailgate.
    No matter how keen you are to move through the work zone quickly.

  10. 10

    Be aware that some work areas are mobile.
    These include line painting, road patching and mowing projects. Do not let your guard down until you are certain you are clear of the work zone. Look for “END ROAD WORK” signs.

  11. 11

    Avoid distractions.
    Music, cell phones and passengers in your car can distract you from the task of driving.

  12. 12

    Be patient with other drivers and road workers.
    Construction zones are not designed to inconvenience you.

  13. 13

    Allow extra time to complete your journey.

The safest way to deal with highway construction zones is to avoid them altogether. If you are aware that work zones are active along your usual route, consider mapping out a detour in advance of the journey.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 4 votes.

Read next

Highway Driving Safety
Highway Driving Safety 1 of 4

Highway Driving Safety

There are additional rules, safety tips and considerations which all drivers must keep in mind when using limited access highways. A great deal can be done to minimize the risk of being involved in a highway accident – though we cannot eliminate that risk altogether. This vital conclusion to our highway driving section reiterates the safe highway driving practices you must adhere to, discusses the importance of planning for your trip and teaches you how to handle an emergency on the highway.

Preparing for The Trip on A Highway
Highway Driving Safety 2 of 4

Preparing for The Trip

If your journey involves using unfamiliar limited access highways, planning your route ahead of time is essential. Mapping out your trip in advance will minimize stress and ensure you do not miss vital exits on the freeway.

Important Highway Driving Practices
Highway Driving Safety 3 of 4

Important Driving Practices

This section summarizes those must-know highway driving techniques and safety practices. Organized into an easy-to-follow checklist, this information can be printed off and revisited as often as needed; you may wish to read through it again before taking your car onto a freeway.

Driving on Highways 4 of 10

Highway Safety Features

Many highly effective safety features have been implemented on interstate highways around the country over the past few decades. These features are designed to cut back on collisions, reduce off-the-road crashes and minimize annual highway fatalities by making the crashes that do occur less severe. Thanks to the improvements made under the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), United States highways are now among the safest roads in the world.

Driving on Highways 5 of 10

Entering a Highway

It is important to learn the proper procedure for entering a highway - especially where acceleration and merging are concerned. Merging with high-speed traffic can be dangerous and presents a real challenge for less-experienced drivers. The secrets to safe and successful freeway entry are being vigilant, signaling and matching the speed of existing traffic.

Driving on Highways 6 of 10

Choosing A Lane on A Highway

The speed at which you are traveling will also somewhat determine which lane you should choose to occupy. While avoiding all unnecessary lane changes, motorists must be prepared to change lanes whenever doing so creates a safer driving situation. The distance remaining until your intended exit will also influence your choice of lanes.

Driving on Highways 7 of 10

Highway Driving Maneuvers

Making any maneuver on a highway will put you at risk, as the high density of traffic and high speeds involved leave little room for error and a small window of time in which to act in response to a threat. The key to maneuvering safely on an expressway is maintaining enough space around your vehicle, keeping up with the flow of traffic and scanning ahead for potential dangers.

Driving on Highways 8 of 10

Special Highway Areas

While using highways, you may encounter areas which require different driving behaviors, or where a different set of rules apply. Understanding how areas like HOV lanes and toll booths must be used will help you to stay out of danger and avoid getting a ticket.

Driving on Highways 9 of 10

Exiting a Highway

While exiting a highway is nowhere near as difficult or intimidating as entering one, there is still a lot that can go wrong. Learning how to exit a highway safely is a skill like any other you will learn in preparation for your driver’s exam. It will not require you to merge with traffic as you do when entering the highway, though it still deserves considerable attention.