Protecting roadway workers — the most vulnerable road users

July 28, 2022

By David McKee
Vice President of Marketing and Government Relations

According to the Federal Highway Administration, “vulnerable road users” (or VRUs) are people “who use streets, roads and highways without the benefit of the protection offered by an automobile or truck. Typically, a VRU is walking or traveling by bicycle, scooter, wheelchair or skates — in other words, those users who ‘walk and roll.’” 

When these VRUs leave the safety of the sidewalk and enter a crosswalk, they are exposed to vehicular traffic in the travelway. Another segment of VRUs exposed to vehicular traffic for extended periods of time is the roadway worker. 

Today, roadway workers are defined as VRUs by a number of organizations, such as American Road & Transportation Builder Association (ARTBA) and states including New Jersey.

The issue of classifying roadway workers as a significant element of VRUs has a stronger voice with the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC).  The TCC is a collection of 33 national associations chaired with ARTBA and Association of General Contractor (AGC) members, and is a powerful broker in the nation’s capital.

On May 4, 2022, the TCC sent a letter to the Secretary of Transportation seeking inclusion in the VRU category with a clear request to add construction workers into this category:  “All fatalities and injuries on the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure network are equally tragic, but strategies to protect construction workers are distinct from those of other VRUs.”

The prominent distinction the TCC identifies is how much more roadway workers are exposed to death and serious injury than pedestrians and cyclists.

The TCC’s communication also requested the Secretary to “Disaggregate construction workers from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports on pedestrian injuries and fatalities and include data on both categories of VRUs,” and to “Create specific targets and plans to better protect roadway construction workers when formulating measures to reduce the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries.” 

Protecting roadway workers can be accomplished by closing the roadway completely, therefore eliminating the risk of work zone intrusions. When a road closure is not an option for a work zone, the integration of precast concrete barriers and portable positive protection to prevent intrusions is recommended. 

Every day, there are many work zones that put workers at increased risk by not having either option available.  Due to the duration and mobility of some work zones, protecting these workers remains a significant safety challenge.

All too frequently, workers are also injured or killed by the moving heavy equipment that is part of the work space. This exposure clearly demonstrates how roadway workers are some of the most vulnerable among us. 

As you walk or bike beside workers repairing a sidewalk or patching a pothole, remember that an insignificant driving mistake can affect lives forever.

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