Who’s at Fault for a Work Zone Traffic Accident?

by on Dec. 04, 2018

Accident & Injury 

Summary: We love being able to get from place to place. We don’t love the fact that from time to time we need to travel through work zones to do that. Roads and highways need to be repaired and expanded over time, and often we’re so over-scheduled we have little tolerance for that.

Though we may dread construction zones, we need to understand that there really are human beings working in them, and they’re especially vulnerable to accidents. Why accidents in these work zones happen and who’s to blame varies on the situation.


Young, careless drivers at night are especially dangerous.


Roads and highways where there are work zones often see more accidents, sometimes many more accidents, according to an article in the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Its authors cite different research stating that the percentage increase in accidents, comparing sections of roads and highways before and during the presence of work zones, ranges from 26% to 88%.


The article is based on a review of accident data from the state of Florida and concludes . . .


  • Though most of the accidents happened during the day, a substantial number (38%) occurred at night when traditionally there’s much less traffic.
  • Injuries of some kind happen in 71% of all work zone accidents; incapacitating injuries happen about 10% of the time; and 2% of the accidents result in fatalities.
  • About 66% of work zone crashes were caused by careless drivers, with nearly 32% caused by improper lane changes.
  • Cloudy weather is more hazardous in work zones than in non-work zones, and unlit areas are 35% more likely to experience vehicle accidents.


Drivers with certain characteristics pose a greater threat than others:


  • Drivers younger than 25 pose the greatest risk of an accident at a work zone compared to other age groups. They are 210% more likely to cause such an accident than a driver who’s 56 to 65 years old.
  • Male drivers are 130% more likely to cause a work zone accident than female drivers.
  • An intoxicated driver has a 1053% increased risk of a work zone accident compared to one who’s sober.


There were 607 fatal work zone crashes involving 669 fatalities in 2014, reports the Federal Highway Administration. Many factors were involved in causing the accidents and the severity of the injuries:


  • Lack of seatbelt use was a factor in 25% of the accidents.
  • Speeding was an issue in 28% of the fatal crashes.
  • Alcohol use was involved in a quarter of these accidents.

It's highly likely that a rear-end collision in a work zone will cause a death. Of 527 fatal work zone vehicle accidents in 2013, 41% were rear-end collisions (compared to 16% of all fatal crashes).


Contractors and workers play a role in reducing work zone accidents


Though drivers present the greatest threat in a roadway work zone, if the contractor doesn’t pay enough attention to safety and workers ignore safety rules, the chances of an accident increase. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration ...


  • The work zone needs to be properly planned. The contractor needs to consider the size and shape of the area; how that will impact traffic; how traffic will be controlled; how workers will enter and exit the area; and whether the area will be lit at night and, if so, how much.
  • Workers need to wear reflective clothing.
  • Drivers need to be given a lot of warning that a work zone is coming up, and workers or law enforcement may need to be in position to control traffic.


We drivers are the biggest danger in work zones. Not only are we hazardous to the workers but to other drivers and pedestrians as well. The dangers caused by bad driving habits become intensified in these spaces where workers are present and traffic slows down. We can cause a work zone accident if we are ...


  • Distracted while driving. We may not notice traffic backing up, workers and pedestrians near the roadway, physical barriers or how fast we’re travelling. It’s never a good time to be on your smartphone or daydreaming while driving, but it’s an especially bad time when you’re in a work zone.
  • Travelling too fast, risking a loss of control. The faster you drive, the longer it will take for you to slow down and stop, making an accident more likely. Speed limits are lower in work zones. We may be used to travelling at a certain speed on a given stretch of road or highway and not slow down if there’s a work zone. A work zone may appear to be inactive, so you may not feel the need to slow down, but it may be hazardous nevertheless.
  • Angry at the world and fellow drivers because of the delay. Traffic jams are common around work zones. They can increase stress, and road rage may result. If you’re changing lanes, use your signal light. Let others into your lane without making it a test of wills. Don’t try to get ahead by speeding down a lane you know will be closed and then cut someone else off at the end. Not only might this cause an accident, but it could end in violence between you and the other driver. Accept the fact that you’re not going to reach your destination when you planned. Just because it makes your day more difficult, this doesn’t mean you should make everyone else’s day more difficult, too.


Many things can conspire to cause a work zone accident. The work zone may not be managed properly; workers may be careless; and drivers may be distracted. You can control only so much when you’re driving through a work zone, so pay attention, be alert and do all you can so everyone can go home at the end of the day.

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