CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Officials are warning motorists to be cautious in work zones to avoid fatalities on the roads.
Crashes in construction zones are avoidable if drivers keep their attention on the road and away from distractions, said Brent Walker, communications director for the state Department of Transportation.
About 90 percent of crashes in work zones are the result of excessive speed or distracted driving, he said.
"With these new laws coming in making primary offenses texting and holding a handheld, I think you're going to see some people learn pretty quick that you can't do that," Walker said of the cellphone laws that will take effect starting next month.
"So we keep hammering how avoidable accidents are when you just slow down, turn it off, put it away and just drive."
Work zone safety is important year-round, but motorists see more road crews in the warmer months.
Highways workers typically wear bright orange or green reflective vests when on a job, and that's another sign for motorists to slow down, said Randy Damron, assistant communications director for the transportation department.
"When you think of work zone safety, you might think that's guys and gals out in the work zone doing their job repairing the highway, they're the ones we need to slow down for because we might hit someone, well that is true," Damron said.
"But the accidents also involve motorists. They're the ones that get into the most trouble not following directions or just simply not slowing down."
Two work zone fatalities have been reported since the weather warmed and road construction season began, he said. Both occurred on Interstate 81 in the Eastern Panhandle where crews are expanding the four-lane road to six lanes.
Mobility and safety engineer Donna Hardy said her primary job is to ensure motorists get to their destinations safely.
One of the most important things her office is looking at is work zone safety. Eighty percent of the fatalities in work zone crashes are motorists, not workers, she said.
"We are changing what you're used to seeing," Hardy said. "We are putting barricades, signs, workers in your way. We have stopped traffic when you don't expect it. We're trying to give you enough information so you can expect it, but we also need you to slow down, pay attention and expect the unexpected."