Work Zone Fatalities, Injuries, & Crashes

Work zone fatalities reached a 17-year high in 2021. 27 Between 2013 and 2021, work zone fatalities increased 61 percent. In 2021, over 105,000 work zone crashes were estimated to have occured resulting in over 42,000 injuries and 954 work zone fatalities. 8, 9 Stated another way, 42,000 injuries is about the capacity of a football stadium. 954 work zone fatalities is the equivalent of 5 commercial domestic airliners. Comprehensive costs of work zone crashes are estimated at over $37.9 billion annually (2023 dollars) 28, 29, 43 Benefits of reducing the number crashes by implementing Positive Protection & barrier separation in work zones can be estimated at over $3.7-$8.7 billion annually (10%-23% of work zone crash costs, 2023 dollars). 42

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, work zone crashes & fatalities climbed despite lower traffic volumes. 20, 21, 22, 23, 32, 33 For the first half of 2021, USDOT estimated another 18.4% surge in traffic fatalities over 2020 and the largest number of traffic fatalities since 2006. 35 In 2021, TxDOT reported that work zone fatalities in fact surged 33%. 36 For the first quarter of 2022, USDOT estimated a record increase in fatalities nationwide. 38

The Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) projected that the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate jumped an unprecedented 21% from 2019. 34 A prior study found that 38% of "Pedestrian" fatalities in work zones were workers (i.e. road construction/maintenance workers, utility workers, and planning/surveying workers). Working on foot along our roadways is dangerous.

"If a work zone has 'no means of escape' from motorized traffic, then no operating speed is truly safe. An unprotected worker who cannot escape faces serious injury from motor vehicles at any speed, even walking speeds... One study cited by FHWA show[ed] that the risk of a pedestrian crash fatality reaches 45% at 30 mph and 85% at 40 mph, and another study estimat[ed] that pedestrians have less than a 50% chance of surviving a crash with a vehicle traveling 30 mph or above... The risks posed to road workers will likely further increase as the size of vehicles in the U.S. continues to grow larger. According to a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“IIHS”) study, the average U.S. passenger vehicle has grown 4 inches wider, 10 inches longer, 8 inches taller, and 1,000 pounds heavier over the past 30 years. Significantly, the IIHS study found that vehicles with higher front ends (pickup trucks, SUVs and vans with a hood height greater than 40 inches) were 44% to 45% more likely to cause fatalities in crashes with pedestrians than smaller cars and trucks. "

Highway Maintenance workers died on the job 3.7 times more often than the average American worker & 19 times more often than Engineering & Office/Administrative workers. 39,40 "In 2015, 35 percent of all highway worker fatalities at road construction sites resulted from a vehicle striking a worker. By 2021, this alarming figure had increased to 63 percent" notes Laborers' Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA). 44 Tunnel, culvert, bridge repair work zones, etc. are known to be especially hazardous with high-speed traffic moving in close proximity to employees, roadside hazards, and/or little or no means for employees to escape from errant vehicles. The serious hazards faced by highway workers along our roadways, who are among the most "Vulnerable Road Users", highlights the need for Positive Protection & barrier separation in work zones.

More motorists and road workers are being killed or injured in preventable work zone crashes. In a 2022 survey, most highway contractors (64%) reported crashes into their work zones. In an earlier survey, 89% of highway contractors think Positive Protection would help improve safety and prevent these horrific crashes. 38, 4 Speaking up about work zone safety issues could reduce risk & save a life.

The rising number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities further highlight the imperative for Positive Protection. In 2015, Congress directed FHWA to "do all within its power to protect workers in highway work zones." 45 Federal law and ANSI standards identify types of projects that need Positive Protection. For such projects, a “separate pay item” for positive protection is required under federal law and regulations. 1, 11 The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) amends the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to increase funding & protection for "Vulnerable Road Users", which includes "highway workers on foot". 41 In 2021, USDOT set the value of a single life (VSL) at $11.8 million dollars. 13, 37 California research found a cost benefit for highly mobile barrier of $1.9 million per year, per barrier in 2008 ($2.72 million in 2023 dollars). 14

"It's as if we were living through a war... When it comes to roadway deaths, we have a crisis that’s urgent, unacceptable - and preventable. "

"Blaming human error alone is convenient, but it places all Americans in greater danger."

"Motorists will inevitably make mistakes. Too often they pay for their mistakes with their lives – or the lives of innocent bystanders.... We have the technology and 'know how' to build our roadway system to anticipate user error. It can be designed, constructed, equipped, and operated to forgive the errant user and protect the innocent victim."

"There must be considerable ethical blindness when loss of life is somehow considered an acceptable risk... Ultimately, the deciders, those who are taking the risk of other people's lives in their own hands, have the responsibility of not risking other people's lives... When we do take steps that minimize risk, we should not consider these steps to be 'managing' risk, but rather as steps that reduce the consequences of risk."

Introductory Quote

"We have the technology and 'know how' to build our roadway system to anticipate user error. It can be designed, constructed, equipped, and operated to forgive the errant user and protect the innocent victim."

AGC Study - Outcomes of Work Zone Crashes 38,
(Mouseover data points for details.)

AGC Study - Percentage of Highway Contractors
Reporting Work Zone Crashes Over Time 38, 26, 25, 4, 5, 6, 7, 19, 18, 17

The 2019 AGC study revealed that an increasing percentage of contractors believe Positive Protection would improve safety on their projects.

  • 89% of contractors report that increased use of Positive Protection barriers would help reduce injuries and fatalities on their projects.
  • 4

38% of Pedestrian Work Zone Fatalities occured while working.
Primary Activity of the 122 Pedestrian Work Zone Fatalities (2018)

87% of Working Pedestrians were engaged in Road Work, Utility Work, or Planning/Surveying.

Work Activity of the 46 Working Pedestrians in Work Zones (2018)

Road Work activities at the time of death include activities such as installing traffic signs, reopening a lane, flagging, picking up debris, replacing damaged concrete, paving operations, exiting a work vehicle, utility work, construction labor, DOT electrical work, DOT maintenance work, fence contracting, repairing guardrail, stringing cable guard rail, and repairing a bridge.