Missouri Department of Transportation officials have a new message for drivers who are approaching work zones on the state's roads: "Work with us."
Last year, 27 people died in Missouri road work zone crashes, MoDOT officials said. And many of those fatalities could have been avoided if drivers weren't distracted.
"Distracted driving is the number one cause of fatal and serious injury crashes in work zones," MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said. "It is not hard to believe given that nine in 10 people admit to engaging their smart phones while driving."
MoDOT has truck-mounted attenuators (TMAs), which act as work zone buffers for a moving work zone. The TMAs were hit a record 48 times, which was 33 percent more TMA crashes in 2020 than 2019. McKenna said most often those crashes were caused by speeding and distractions.
MoDOT employee Frank Shadwell recalled a time he was driving a TMA and a vehicle sped into the back of his truck.
"We had a truck that was hit a day prior to mine, so we were already on a higher alert," Shadwell said. "A truck came up behind us, and it didn't appear he would be moving over. The TMAs don't just get up and go like our personal vehicles would."
Shadwell said he activated panic lights to add additional visuals on the TMA to get the truck behind to slow down, but it wasn't enough to get him to stop.
"People out in the work zones are on the job, and if you are lucky to have an extra person out there to watch traffic, that's fine and dandy. But that isn't always enough," Shadwell said. "In a TMA, all you get is the rear-view mirror. We just ask the public to pay attention while they're driving. Work zones are ever changing, and nine times out of 10, if the weather is nice, there is somebody out there in that work zone."
Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Eric Olson said troopers issued more than 1,400 citations last year in work zones and more than 500 warnings.