ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KMOX) - Distracted drivers are a major concern as Missouri transportation officials begin reminding motorists to be careful in construction work zones this summer.
Monday was the start of National Work Zone Awareness Week to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety in work zones.
“One of the big problems that we have is in texting and driving,” said Rudy Farber, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, during a press conference in west St. Louis County. “I would urge everyone to buckle up, put their phones away, and arrived home safely.”
Across the country 9,900 people have died in work zone crashes over the past decade, according to a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
There were 11 fatalities in Missouri work zones in 2011, and 701 people were injured.
Not all of those were state employees, of course.
“Eighty to eighty-five percent of the deaths in a work zone (nationally) are really attributed to motorists or their passengers actually perishing,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez during the same event. “So keep that in mind.”
John Slatten lost his 21-year-old son Joshua, a MoDOT worker, to a work zone crash in March of 2008.
He’s horrified when he spots other drivers chatting on their cell phones or texting while they’re behind the wheel, or speeding through work zones.
Slatten, who’s been driving trucks for a living for more than 30 years, wants Missouri to adopt much stricter penalties for distracted driving, similar to those professional drivers face from their employers.
“As far as a commercial vehicle, the driver can be fined $2750, and the company can be fined $11,000,” he said. “I would like to see something as strict for John Q. Public.”
While that may or may not be feasible, said Missouri Department of Transportation director Kevin Keith, something needs to be done to convince drivers to put down the smart phone and concentrate on the road.
“Just drive around and look! See how many people have got a phone stuck in their ear.” Keith said. “It’s a problem that we need to deal with.”