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Temporary Rumble Strips Address Work Zone Safety

Distracted drivers and drivers who speed are reasons to consider installing temporary transverse rumble strips in work zones. These are the motorists who, despite the orange cones, flashing lights and signage, rear-end slowing vehicles and drive into work zones, inflicting injury and death on those unable to jump out of the way. They also risk their own lives, the lives of their passengers and the safety of other drivers.

The following statistics show why contractors involved with highway construction projects should consider installing temporary rumble strips in work zones:

  • Nationwide, more than 37,000 people were injured in work zones in 2010.
  • Nationally, 576 people died in work zone crashes.
  • Four out of five people killed in work zones today are motorists – not highway workers.
  • Most work zone crashes are rear-end collisions.
  • The majority of work zone crashes occur during daylight hours when traffic is heaviest.

The majority of work zone tragedies occur due to drivers:

  • Not paying attention
  • Going too fast for conditions
  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Following too closely

Temporary rumble strips – some of which can be installed without adhesives – can help reduce the driver behaviors that lead to injuries and deaths in work zones.

Rumble Strips

Rumble strips are placed crossways over a section of highway so that when a vehicle drives over them, the motorist hears noise and feels vibration. The purpose is to increase driver awareness. Permanent rumble strips – grooves or rows of indents in pavement – help reduce off-the-road crashes that can occur when sleepy drivers drift out of their lanes. They also alert drivers to changes ahead that require them to slow, such as a toll booth. Temporary rumble strips – ridges of plastic or rubber – are installed to increase driver awareness of a road condition that is unusual (e.g., a pedestrian crosswalk not at an intersection, an unexpected lane closure or pothole repair or in advance of a flagger). Their effectiveness is enhanced when they are used in conjunction with flashing lights, signage and other traffic control devices.

Research shows that rumble strips are effective in reducing accidents in work zones. However, there are situations when these devices are not appropriate. For example, if a road has a high volume of motorcycle and bicycle traffic, rumble strips can be hazardous for the riders. In heavily populated areas, the noise generated by vehicles traveling over rumble strips can affect quality of life for nearby residents.

With the assistance of a traffic engineering study, contractors should examine a work zone’s location to see if temporary rumble strips can help with the challenge of protecting workers and motorists. If it is determined that these devices would be effective, contractors should make temporary rumble strips a line item on contracts with state and federal highway departments.

The National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse provides guidance for the use of temporary rumble strips.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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