Driving on Highways
Highway Construction Zones

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

Updated May 13, 2019

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 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 instructionsgiven 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

    Exercise extreme cautionwhen driving through a work zoneat night or when visibility is limited.

  5. 5

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

  6. 6

    If you mustmerge into a new laneto 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 distancewithout 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 distractionsfrom music,cell phonesand passengers in your car.

  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 all together. If you are aware that work zones are active along your usual route, consider mapping out a detour in advance of the journey.

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