TDOT workers say work zones more dangerous than ever

Posted at 9:23 AM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 10:23:38-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Last year 25 people died in work zone crashes in Tennessee. That number includes drivers, passengers and workers.

Most people understand the interstate is a dangerous place to work.

"We do a lot of work out there," said Brian Harrington, Tennessee Department of Transportation Help Operator. "We change tires, gas, move wrecks out of the way... but I'd say 40% of what we do out there is watch our backs."

But this year, TDOT workers say lighter traffic from the coronavirus pandemic has led to higher driver speeds, threatening their safety more than ever.

"People have definitely been driving faster," Harrington said. "With the lighter traffic as soon as we open it back up and the lanes are back open it's gone back to full speed traffic almost immediately."

Drivers always come across more road crews in the spring and summer months because the weather makes it easier for them to repair, replace and resurface roads.

That's why a national push, called Work Zone Awareness Week, is happening April 20 through 24 to get drivers to slow down and pay attention. TDOT is participating across the state.

"This is one of our trucks that was hit a couple weeks ago," Harrington said as he showed NewsChannel 5 a Help Truck he said was likely totaled in the TDOT lot.

He said it doesn't even surprise him when incidents like this happen - in fact he's personally had his truck hit four different times. The most recent incident was in October.

"I had my board set up, lights on," he said. "A car came along - guy was on his phone, and tried to turn at the last second and sheared the side of his car off on the side of my truck."

The pictures aren't pretty. But for Harrington it was just a close call. For many road crews it ends very differently.

To date,112 TDOT workers have died in the line of duty.

While Harrington's license isn't medical, even during a pandemic his job is essential. His main ask: that drivers slow down. So he can drive home from work just like anyone else.

If you see anyone working while on the road be sure to pay attention to signs, observe the hands-free law, slow down and move over if you can.

Wednesday of Work Zone Awareness Week is Wear Orange Day, if you'd like to support road workers across the state.