Construction Highways, streets and bridges Construction

Crash risk soars among distracted drivers in highway work zones: study

work zone
Photo: DougBennett/iStockphoto

Columbia, MO — Distracted drivers are 29 times more likely to be involved in a highway work zone collision or near collision, according to a recent study from the University of Missouri.

Using the Transportation Research Board’s second Strategic Highway Research Program’s Naturalistic Driving Study, researchers collected data from more than 3,000 people who collectively drove more than 50 million miles between 2006 and 2015. The data detailed how driver, vehicle, roadway and environmental factors contributed to a crash, essentially allowing researchers to reconstruct a driver’s actions and the surrounding environment.

Results showed that drivers who spent any length of time distracted by a cellphone call, text message, passenger or another source greatly increased their risk of a collision or near collision in a work zone.

“Prior to this study, we knew that narrow lanes in work zones are less safe than wider lanes and, similarly, speeding in work zones is correlated with injury severity,” study co-author Praveen Edara, a civil and environmental engineering professor at MU, said in a March 5 press release. “With this unique data set, it also allows us to see the responsibility the driver has in increasing work zone safety.”

In 2017, 799 fatalities were recorded in work zones – the most since 2007, according to an American Road and Transportation Builders Association report. Of those, 132 were highway workers.


The researchers recommend state transportation agencies and the Federal Highway Administration take “behavioral countermeasures,” such as pushing for better public education, laws banning texting and driving, and policies that deter driver distractions, to decrease injuries and fatalities in work zones.

The study was published online Jan. 9 in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, an effort spearheaded by the National Safety Council to recognize the dangers of – and eliminate preventable deaths from – distracted driving. In addition, National Work Zone Awareness Week – scheduled for April 8-12 – is intended to draw attention to driver and worker safety and mobility issues in work zones. This year’s theme is “Drive Like You Work Here.”

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)