Visit our offices in Kansas City, Liberty, St. Joe,
or our Virtual Office

Work Zone Crashes Climb During Pandemic, Even as Traffic Ebbs

Tuesday, Oct. 13th 2020

Work zone crashes and fatalities have spiked in some states during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the drop in traffic, alarming transportation and highway safety officials.

Workers patching potholes, striping roads, directing traffic or building highways are more at risk than ever, they say, as drivers zoom through work zones or are preoccupied chatting or texting on their phones.

Travel on all roads and streets dropped 40% in April and 26% in May, compared with last year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. But fatal crashes increased in some states. And while traffic volume has picked back up in recent months, work zone crews still are encountering speeders and more-distracted drivers.

“Speeding has really come to the forefront during COVID. People are going much too fast,” said Pam Shadel Fischer, a senior director at the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices. “In work zones, that’s the worst thing we can have happen.”

It’s been particularly deadly in Michigan, where in just one week in September, vehicles struck three county employees and a state contractor in separate incidents, killing two.

“Last year, there were three worker fatalities, total. To have two fatalities and four hits within a week is very alarming,” said Courtney Bates, a Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson. “It’s crazy.

And it’s not just workers who get hurt. Drivers and passengers also suffer. In 2018, the latest data available, there were 672 fatal crashes in work zones and 755 deaths. Only 124 were workers, according to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, which collects federal data.

Many other work zone crashes result in injuries. In 2018, there were an estimated 123,000 work zone crashes and 45,000 people injured.

Speeders Take Over Empty Roads — With Fatal Consequences

Work zones are particularly dangerous because of daily changes in traffic patterns, narrowed rights-of-way and other construction activities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Crews work close to moving traffic — sometimes just a few feet away.

And during the pandemic, when traffic has been lighter, many transportation departments have stepped up maintenance, repairs and construction.

“If you’re patching a pothole or doing a pavement repair, the only thing between you and traffic coming at 80 miles an hour may be a traffic cone,” said Becky Allmeroth, chief safety and operations officer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “If you have one driver distracted by their cellphone, it’s fatal.”

Speeding Dangers

Highway safety officials in many states have seen an increase in motorists caught speeding more than 100 mph in recent months. In work zones, they say, it’s even more alarming.

In eastern Oregon, a state patrol officer clocked a car in April going 104 mph in a posted 50 mph construction zone. The driver ran off the roadway.

Last month, a trooper in Johnston County, North Carolina, chased a motorist who was driving 187 mph through a work zone on Interstate 95. Officers put stop sticks at an exit to block him.

“Things happen quickly,” said Fischer of the governors’ safety group. “There are lanes being changed. There are vehicles coming in and out. There are narrow lanes and concrete barriers. And there are people working there.”

Among some of the deadly work zone crashes during the pandemic:

  • On March 27, a 44-year-old traffic control flagger was struck and killed by a car in Alexander County, North Carolina.
  • On June 9, a 59-year-old construction worker who was directing traffic died after being hit by a car speeding through a work zone in McLean County, Illinois.
  • On Aug. 10, a 57-year-old state transportation worker died after his maintenance vehicle, which carried a lighted sign board warning of work being done, was hit from behind by a semi-truck in Henry County, Iowa.

Protecting Workers

Many transportation departments try to protect their road workers by using truck-mounted attenuators — big crash cushions mounted on the back of trucks or on trailers that are designed to absorb energy from a colliding vehicle and reduce damage and injuries.

Employees typically pull them up them behind maintenance or construction crews and keep an eye out for any traffic headed toward the work zone.

In Missouri, state officials have seen a jump in the number of vehicles crashing into attenuators during the pandemic, according to the DOT’s Allmeroth. Last year, there were 21 by this time; this year, there have been 41.

“It gets us very nervous,” she said. “It really is a crisis. Our drivers and employees are getting injured. Some have been sent to the hospital. And we’re seeing quite a few members of the public getting injured.”

In August, for example, an 18-wheeler moving at more than 70 mph hit an attenuator with an employee in the truck. She was hospitalized and had to undergo surgery, Allmeroth said.

A truck smashed into a state Department of Transportation vehicle in May at a work zone on U.S. 30 near Bucyrus, Ohio. A worker was airlifted to the hospital, and the arrow board she was hauling was pinned under the truck.
Courtesy of Ohio Department of Transportation

A total of 18 people were killed in work zone crashes in Missouri last year, but 23 have died in just the first nine months of this year, despite the reduced traffic, according to Allmeroth.

In 2019, Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed “Lyndon’s Law,” which allows the state to revoke the driver’s license of anyone who hits a highway or utility worker in a work zone or an emergency responder in an emergency zone. The bill was named for Lyndon Ebker, a long-time state DOT employee who was struck and killed in a work zone by a distracted driver in 2016.

Every state has “move over” laws that that require drivers to slow down or switch lanes if possible when they pass emergency vehicles and, in many states, tow trucks and transportation maintenance vehicles. Failing to comply can result in fines, and in some states, jail time.

But police say it’s hard to enforce such laws in work zones, which often have narrow lanes that sometimes weave in and out.

“There’s no way for us to sit in a work zone and enforce traffic laws,” said Sgt. Nathan Dennis, an Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesperson, “because typically they’re down to one lane and sometimes there’s a barrier wall.”

In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Transportation started setting up automated systems with cameras and radar in March that detect and record motorists exceeding work zone speed limits by 11 mph or more, when workers are present. As of Sept. 9, the department has issued 60,000 violation notices, spokesperson Alexis Campbell said. About 12% were repeat violators.

In Ohio, which has had 3,286 work zone crashes so far this year, officials set up air enforcement zones in 12 construction areas. DOT workers paint white lines at those highway work zones spaced out every quarter mile. A state patrol pilot uses them to calculate how fast a vehicle is traveling and radios down to a trooper, who will stop the car and write a ticket.

Ohio has seen an increase in fatal crashes, from nine this time last year to 14 this year, according to DOT spokesperson Matt Bruning. Five road workers — none of them DOT employees — have been killed as of October, up from two last year.

Nearly two dozen state workers have been struck since mid-February, Bruning said. Two weeks ago, a bridge inspector in the Akron area who had gotten out of his vehicle to look at a culvert heard a screech and turned around to see a car coming right at him, Bruning said. It slammed into him, throwing him 15 feet into the air. He was hurt, but not seriously.

“People are driving faster. They’re not paying attention. That’s why we’re seeing what we’re seeing,” Bruning said. “You’d think with fewer people on the roads things would be safer. But there are more severe crashes. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.”

Call Northland Injury Law for Help With Your Work-Related Injury!

If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, Northland Injury Law can help ensure you get full and fair compensation under the law. The attorneys at Northland Injury Law are experienced in navigating the ins and out of the workers’ compensation process and their experience can help you with a complicated claim. For a more comprehensive list of all the questions you might have about workers’ compensation, and for a free consultation, please call (816)-400-4878. If you have further questions about your case, do not hesitate to reach out to us by the phone number, through the contact form, or even with the live chat option listed on our site!

Google 5 Star Rating Motor Vehicle trial Lawyers Top 25 Hurt In An Accident?

Personal Injury

If you’ve been injured and aren’t sure where to turn, let us help. We represent individuals in many areas of personal injury including truck, auto and motorcycle accidents, property liability (slip & fall), spinal cord injuries, and more.

Worker's Comp

Injured at work? We can help! If you have suffered a work-related injury or illness, we can help ensure you get full and fair compensation under the law.


Our Personal Injury & Worker's Comp Attorneys

Northland Injury Law: Personal Injury Lawyers in Northland Kansas City and Northwest Missouri.

Proudly serving: Gladstone, Liberty, Kansas City, North Kansas City, Saint Joseph, Plattsburg, Cameron, Chillicothe, Trenton, Sedalia, Warrensburg and many other areas in Missouri.

The Northland Injury Law Firm has been practicing in the Kansas City area for many years. Our founders, Max Von Erdsmannsdorff and Steve Mowry, built a strong foundation for the firm. Since Eric Bartlett joined the firm in 1996, Northland Injury Law has earned a reputation for success, honesty and compassion in personal injury and worker’s compensation.

I found Northland Injury Law to be very professional and honest! They kept me up to date on my case. I would highly recommend the whole firm for all your legal needs!!” – Michael T.

Northland Injury Law is proud of the relationships they’ve built with the clients they have served in the Northland and surrounding areas.  Their many great results for seriously injured people have helped their clients recover the significant economic losses that attend such serious injuries.

When it comes to a lawsuit after an accident or injury, representation matters! Most people do not realize that insurance companies have teams of lawyers, investigators, photographers and defense experts who immediately go to work following a serious accident involving their insureds.  They hire these people to minimize their exposure throughout the claims process and to reduce the amount received by the victim. Northland Injury Law aims to level the playing field for their clients.

This is an excellent law firm. They helped me out after an accident and did an awesome job. I would recommend this law firm to anyone who needs a good lawyer.” – Toni B.

Between them, Mr. Mowry and Mr. Bartlett have over  50 combined years of legal experience in the Kansas City Northland area. They have both been recognized by KC Magazine as “Top attorneys in Missouri and Kansas” and both have been recognized in the National Top 100 Trial Attorneys.

If you require the services of excellent local lawyers after an accident or injury, call Northland Injury Law today for a free consultation at 816-400-4878.

Latest Blog

How To Choose A Personal Injury Attorney

Accidents don't come with a warning, leaving you grappling with injuries and a complex web of legalities. It's the kind of situation that can thrust you into a whirlwind of uncertainty, where decisions matter more than ever. A guiding hand...

Read More

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers about our Kansas City law firm, like how and when to file a suit for your Personal Injury & Worker’s Compensation.

View All FAQ's


Northland Injury Law © All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy

Site Created by KC Web Specialists, LLC

Skip to content