At 10 a.m. on March 13, on a westbound stretch of Route 17 near Exit 63 in Tioga County, the dangers of motorists rushing through transportation work zones became all too real and all too tragic for the family, friends and co-workers of Matt Howe.
Howe, a 13-year state Department of Transportation employee known as a “jack of all trades,” was sitting in his truck as part of a DOT crew doing work along the highway when a tractor-trailer driven by a Pennsylvania man barreled through the work zone and struck Howe’s vehicle.
The 45-year-old husband and father of two held on for a few days, but ultimately died on March 18.
This is what can happen, and often does happen, when drivers put their own petty diversions above the lives of highway workers in construction zones.
Often, these workers are performing their tasks only inches from fast-moving traffic.
Those safety vests, bright orange traffic cones, barrels and signs afford them no protection from a careless driver who ignores the lower speed limit signs or decides right then to send a text, adjust the radio or take a sip of his coffee.
According to the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, each year an average of 135 highway workers are killed across the country while simply doing their jobs repairing and sealing damaged pavement, redoing traffic lines, fixing guard rails, removing trash, mowing down brush, and otherwise making the highways safer and smoother for the drivers that use them.
Between 2011 and 2016, 532 construction workers were killed at road construction sites – more than twice the combined total for all other industries combined – according to the Center for Construction Research and Training.
At this time of year, when road crews come down from their plows and begin doing roadwork in larger numbers, it’s imperative that drivers retrain themselves to watch out for work zones and to take appropriate action to move through them safely.
That means slowing down to the suggested speed limits (or driving even slower), obeying signs that tell drivers to stay in their lanes, being cognizant of changing traffic patterns, and moving over to another lane if possible whenever an emergency vehicle or work vehicle is parked alongside the highway.
Most of all, drivers should be extra diligent about keeping their eyes off their cell phones and on the road so as to be able to spot road work up ahead and to take action to avoid contributing to a disaster.
The consequences of not doing so can be fatal.
As a result of a driver not following these simple guidelines, Matt Howe’s wife, Alycia, is now a widow and the couple’s two young children, Bre and Dalton, will grow up without a dad.
Do you want to be responsible for that?
Of course you don’t.
Take the time now this spring to remind yourself to be extra careful in work zones.