Work Zone Crashes, Injuries, & Fatalities
Work zone fatalities reached a 16-year high in 2020.
Between 2013 and 2020, work zone fatalities increased 45%. In 2020, over 102,000 work zone crashes were estimated to have occured resulting in over 45,000 injuries and 857 fatalities.
Stated another way, 45,000 injuries is about the capacity of a football stadium while 857 fatalities is about the capacity of 4 commercial domestic airliners.
Economic costs of work zone crashes have been estimated at over $17.5 billion annually.
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.
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 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. 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". 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. 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."
"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."
2022 Contractor Reported Work Zone Crashes, Project Delays, Injuries, & Fatalities
The Associated General Contractors of America's (AGC) 2022 nationwide study on highway work zone safety reveals that 64% of highway contractors reported work zone crashes over the last year. As a result of these work zone crashes, 37% of firms reported project delays, 7% reported worker fatalities, 18% reported worker injuries, 15% reported public fatalities, and 41% reported public injuries. 97% of highway contractors also reported that the risk of highway work zone crashes is as great or greater than a year ago. 38,
In 2022, 64% of Highway Contractors Reported Crashes
into their Construction Work Zones
AGC Study - Outcomes of Work Zone Crashes
(Mouseover data points for details.)
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
Estimated National Work Zone Crashes & Injuries 8
The number of crashes in work zones and injuries resulting from those crashes has been increasing.
- In 2020, an estimated 102,000 crashes and 45,000 injuries were estimated to have occurred in work zones.
Estimated Work Zone Crashes and Resulting Injuries*
* Estimated Work Zone Crashes & Injuries Data are obtained from NHTSA statistical models (NASS/GES & CRSS). The NHTSA statistical models underestimate work zone crash fatalities by as much as 64% in 2019 (see Table 1 below). In general, the NHTSA FARS & CRSS crash report datasets underreport work zone crashes as well as resulting injuries and fatalities (see note †).Table 1. NHTSA CRSS Statistical Model Percent Error:
(CRSS Statistical Model)
(of CRSS Statistical Model)
National Work Zone Crash Fatalities 9
Work zone crash fatalities have been on the rise nationally.
- 45% increase in fatalities since 2013.
Fatalities Resulting from Work Zone Crashes†
In general, the NHTSA FARS & GES/CRSS crash report datasets underreport work zone crashes as well as resulting injuries and fatalities.
The statistic for fatalities resulting from work zone crashes is obtained from NHTSA FARS dataset which attempts to aggregate various state police crash report datasets. However, crashes occurring inside work zones are not always properly classified by police as work zone related.
A cursory glance of NHTSA FARS data in 2018 quickly reveals examples of missed fatalities resulting from work zone crashes. A number of studies confirm that work zone crashes are underreported in crash report datasets. 31
Pedestrian Fatalities in Work Zones
In 2018, there were 122 cases of pedestrians killed as a result of a work zone crash. 9 Work zone pedestrian fatalities are often assumed to be members of the public who have fallen into complacency walking a routine route. However, in 2018, 38% of pedestrian fatalities in work zones were actually on the job and primarily engaged in road work, utility work, and planning/surveying.
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.
Based on a review of each work zone pedestrian fatality, it is found that
- Activity: Many Pedestrian Fatalities in Work Zones occurred while working (38%, 46 of 122).
- Work Activity: The majority of Working Pedestrian Fatalities in Work Zones were engaged in road work, utility work, planning/surveying (87%, 40 of 46 Working Pedestrians).
- Work Hazard: The majority of Working Pedestrian Fatalities in Work Zones were killed by motorist incursions (80%, 37 of 46 Working Pedestrians)
- Location: Few Pedestrian Fatalities in Work Zones occurred at/near intersections (15%, 18 of 122).
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.