This story was written by Elena Durnbaugh for Gongwer News Service. Read more here.
Drivers are going too fast in construction zones, and it’s killing people.
The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a trade association representing heavy construction companies and suppliers across the state, is partnering with the Michigan Laborers District Council and Operating Engineers 324 to launch a billboard campaign asking drivers to slow down to increase traffic safety.
Billboards asking drivers to take it slow will appear across the state at several locations in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Lansing through the end of October. This effort is an expansion of a previous billboard campaign that ran in southeast Michigan earlier this summer.
“We have a lot of hard-working men and women out there trying to improve the quality of life for the residents and people who live in Michigan … we owe them a lot more respect than we’re giving them,” MITA Executive Vice President Rob Coppersmith said. “But this isn’t a campaign just to protect workers. It has a cause and effect, if you slow down and behave, there’s a lot of people that win in this situation, including the people that are driving.”
Michigan traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2021, according to state data. There were 1,131 traffic deaths last year, a 4 percent increase from 2020 and the highest number of traffic fatalities since 2005.
Work zone fatalities also increased 43 percent last year from 14 in 2020 to 21 in 2021.
The number of crashes, injuries and serious injuries also shot up, with the number of crashes increasing by 15 percent, the number of injuries increasing by 17 percent and the number of suspected serious injuries increasing by 10 percent, according to state data.
“Unfortunately, there was a steady rise in traffic crashes and injuries during 2021, and we are determined to turn those numbers around and save more lives,” Alicia Sledge, interim director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, said in a press release on the data put out in June.
Michigan isn’t the only state to see a rise in the number of fatal traffic crashes. According to a recent report from the National Transportation Research Group, the number of traffic fatalities has risen 19 percent since 2019, and traffic fatalities have increased by 10.5 percent in the last year alone.
As part of the billboard campaign, MITA also is encouraging people to sign the Protect MI Work Zone pledge, which was launched by the Michigan Work Zone Safety Task Force in January with the goal of reducing work zone accidents and fatalities.
MITA is also working with Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) on a bill that would allow automated speed enforcement systems to be used to enforce traffic laws and issue citations for violations (HB 5750 Track).
Mr. Coppersmith said he hopes the Legislature would pick it back up when it returns in the fall.
“There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to traffic safety,” he said. “We really want people to start thinking about (construction) in a different way. Instead of how inconvenienced I am, think about the people that are working hard to create a better Michigan.”