As a KDOT employee with 30-plus years I have witnessed many incidents that could have had disastrous consequences for both the motorist involved and the workers in the work zone.
One of those that really stuck in my mind happened in the first summer of my career. Our crew had set up a work zone to do some patching in the southbound lane on a two-lane highway with paved shoulders. At this time, we were on 10 hour days so by 8 a.m., signs were set at proper spacing and cones for the flagman stations placed.
I was assigned to the south end station and as work started, we (flagmen) began alternating our traffic through the work zone. Shortly after this I observed a single car coming up to the Road Work Ahead sign. I had my flagging paddle turned to stop and left hand raised as required. As the car continues towards me I can hear the sound of the tires on the pavement and the engine. There was no noticeable change in sound as would be associated with a vehicle slowing down. I was taught by senior employees that listening for these is a good way to tell if the vehicle is slowing down.
Still heading toward me and now approaching the Flagman Ahead sign, speed still unchanged, I can see the sun visor is down and the driver is glancing back and forth between the road and the visor mirror. I began backing away toward the shoulder as they quickly approached. When the vehicle passed me I screamed “HEY!” as loud as I could and the driver slammed on the brakes and came to a stop.
As I walked up to the vehicle, I observed a young lady of high school age with a bag of makeup sitting on her lap. She was visibly shaken and apologized. She stated she had not noticed the signs and admitted being distracted by trying to finish her makeup because she was running late. I said to her it is better to be late than not get there at all and sent her on.
In so many ways this could have ended tragically. If we would have been working in the other lane or there had been traffic going through the work zone, injuries and possible fatalities could have occurred. And now with all of today’s technology, there are even more ways for drivers to be distracted.
Most of us have family we wish to return home to at the end of each day. Waiting to make that call, send that text or even putting on makeup until it can be safely done will help you make it to your original destination and not your final destination. May your travels be safe and pleasant.
Galen Ludlow is KDOT Area Superintendent in Dodge City