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Jeff Sevey

There are almost 400,000 miles of paved roadway in the State of California. Of that total, interstate highways, freeways, and expressways account for almost 70,000 miles. This vast amount of roadway requires almost constant maintenance. At any given time, major road construction projects are occurring all over the State. The transportation numbers in the State’s budget backs this up.

Ongoing highway repairs cost the State nearly four billion dollars annually. This amount does not cover the nearly twelve billion dollars’ worth of backlogged needed repairs to the road system. In short, if you live and drive in California, you’re going to run into road construction and repair projects (called work zones) on a regular basis.

What actually makes up a work zone? It is simply a stretch of roadway where there is construction work happening. This construction could be work on utility lines, general road maintenance, or new roadways being built. You’ll see work zones marked with cones, signs, flashing lights or arrows, barriers, or work vehicles. Occasionally on project that go on for a long time, traffic lights may be temporarily installed to direct the flow of traffic when only one lane is open.

When you’re driving through a work zone, it pays to pay attention. Work zones are filled with hazards that may or may not be readily apparent, and this is especially so at night when visibility is already somewhat limited. While safe driving should always be a priority, driving through work zones requires a bit more attention and care to keep you safe and out of harm’s way.

Here are ten tips to help you drive as safely as possible through the work zones you are sure to encounter on California roads:

Prepare for the unexpected.

You’ll probably see a reduction in traffic lanes, a reduction in speed, and many workers, vehicles, and machinery on the worksite. Be aware of sudden movements by people or vehicles, and make sure you have enough space between you and the vehicle ahead of you in case a sudden stop becomes necessary.

Be extra alert when driving through work zones.

Become familiar with the meanings of the road signs, and pay attention to what they’re telling you to do. Those signs may tell you that there is work being done ahead, that there is a detour you’ll need to follow, or that two lanes merge into one.

If there is a flagger present, take direction from them, even if signs state otherwise in the work zone.

If you do not follow the directions from the flagger, you can receive a ticket.

Try to be patient.

Remember that no one is moving quickly through a work zone and that you’re not the only one being inconvenienced. Try to remember that when the project is completed, you’ll have a better, safer road to drive on.

Utilize the Take 10 technique when changing lanes.

If you become aware of a lane closure ahead, plan your merge well ahead of the closure. The Take 10 technique means that you put on your turn signal three seconds before beginning to change lanes, and then use seven seconds to complete the lane change. Use your mirrors when you change lanes, and be aware of blind spots.

Slow your speed.

Make sure you slow down while approaching the work zone so that you have time to slow down to the speed of any traffic that has built up.

Practice defensive driving.

Rear-end collisions are the number one cause of crashes in work zones. Leave at least seven seconds of braking distance between your car and the one in front of you. Following too close, and/or traveling too fast will only get you into an accident. Pay attention to the distance between your car and traffic barriers, equipment, and on-site workers.

Until you see the signs stating that you have left the work zone, pay attention to the signs within the work zone.

Keep in mind that some roadwork is mobile. Jobs like filling potholes, mowing the sides of the roadways, and line painting all happen while the workers and vehicles are moving. In addition, if you don’t see any workers present, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Remember, expect the unexpected.

Delays are going to happen, so plan ahead and leave early for your destination.

You can check for construction delays on the roads you travel by going to the California Department of Transportation website here:

Eliminate all distractions when driving through a work zone.

Turn the radio down, don’t eat or smoke, and pay close attention to the road ahead of you and the surrounding areas. The use of hand-held cellphones while driving is illegal in the state of California, so make sure you have yours turned off.

The cost of not paying attention in a work zone can be hefty, and can easily run over $1000 if you’re cited for speeding, texting, or distracted driving in a work zone. Add to that the cost of getting into an accident, and you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars in damage, and possible bodily injury. You just don’t want to go there.

Pay attention, be patient, expect the unexpected, and know the work zone signs. Drive as safely as possible through work zones, and you’ll arrive at your destination on time, and in one piece.

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