State: Reckless drivers are hurting highway workers

A total of 61 WSDOT workers have been killed in work zones since 1950. (Photos courtesy State of Washington)

The Washington State Department of Transportation last week honored its 61 fallen workers killed on the job since 1950 — many in work zones. The department added a new face to its memorial wall this year: Rodney C. Wheeler, killed June 30, 2023. He leaves behind his fiancé and six children.

There were 1,228 crashes in highway work zones last year across Washington state. That figure, while stunning, is about average, the department said. But the severity of these crashes has increased because reckless driving has increased. Rampant speeding and distracted driving are hurting workers.

At last week’s memorial event, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke with a crew from Vancouver involved in one such incident this January. The crew was out fixing potholes when a driver suspected of impairment careened into their work zone and injured six workers. The workers had just parked and activated their bright warning lights when the driver smashed into the back of their truck – lights and all.

Despite huge flashing lights and other work zone indications, inattentive, impaired or reckless drivers crash in work zones and threaten workers over 1,000 times a year.

In response to such incidents, Inslee this legislative session signed a bill to expand the use of speed cameras in work zones. WSDOT is now performing a greater share of work by day, and they also are starting to close additional lanes to afford workers more space.

“We should all take issue with reckless, distracted, or impaired driving. And we should all do right by these workers and slow down,” Inslee said. “They, and you, deserve to get home safely.”

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