CHICAGO – Because an alarming 46 drivers, passengers and workers in highway work-related accidents in last year died, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced today new legislation and strategies that will make highway construction and maintenance zones safer places to travel and work. The legislation (HB 7015) more than doubles fines for speeders and beefs up law enforcement efforts in work zones. The measures are based on recommendations made by the Governor’s Work Zone Safety Task Force, appointed by Blagojevich last Fall.
“I know most Illinois drivers respect the hard work of roadway workers across the state by slowing down in construction zones,” Governor Blagojevich said. “Unfortunately, there are a few drivers out there who don’t seem to understand just how dangerous speeding through a work zone can be. That’s why we are taking steps, both immediate and long-term, to protect workers from dangerous drivers.”
In 2003, seven workers were killed on the job by reckless drivers, five of those in highway work zones. Another 38 drivers and passengers and one pedestrian died in highway work zone accidents. As a result of those accidents, Governor Blagojevich signed legislation that charges drivers with reckless homicide if they speed through a highway construction zone and kill someone. Under the new law, motorists face a prison term from three to 14 years and a $10,000 fine. If two people are killed, the motorist’s sentence can be doubled.
“It’s not enough to punish reckless drivers after a tragedy. We need to do everything we can to prevent senseless deaths from occurring in the first place. We are developing new ways to make our highway work zones safer,” said the Governor. Stepping up the state’s efforts to promote safety in work zones, HB 7015 increases the penalties associated with work zone violations. The bill:
· Increases fines for speeding in a work zone: total fine for the first occurrence will more than double from the current $150 to a minimum of $375. For the second and subsequent occurrences, fines will increase from $300 to a minimum of $750.
· Sets up a pilot program allowing the use of photo enforcement technologies to take snapshots of license plates of motorists who speed through work zones
· Increases the use of police authority to enforce work zone speed limits and encourages voluntary compliance. The bill allows officers to immediately arrest motorists who are traveling through a construction or maintenance zone at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit.
"Work zone safety is everyone's responsibility,” said Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Tim Martin. “When you're in a work zone, it's up to you to focus all of your attention on driving, not changing the radio station, talking on your cell phone or trying to make sure the kids are behaving. Slowing down to 45 will only add a minute to your trip, and not slowing down could cost you 200 dollars or it could cost a worker their life."
While members of the General Assembly consider HB 7015, other recommendations made by the Governor’s Work Zone Safety Task Force will be implemented at the onset of the construction season. IDOT Secretary Tim Martin, Illinois State Tollway Authority Executive Director Jack Hartman and Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent headed up task force comprised of representatives from labor and industry.
Strategies that will be implemented this April by IDOT, ISP and the Tollway Authority to increase public awareness and improve safety in work zones include:
· Better defined work zones: projects on multi-lane facilities will have signs that better delineate the appropriate speed in a particular area of a work zone and also the point at which it is safe to resume normal speed. Existing multi-lane construction projects will also have revised signage
· Modify driver education curriculum: A compact disc and associated teaching manual will be mailed to 1,500 Illinois high schools and private driver education facilities
· Develop a graphic sign to publicize work zone related penalties: the new signage reading “Hit a worker, $10,000 fine, 14 years in jail” will be posted along multi-lane construction projects.
· Enhanced use and addition of both stationary and portable changeable message signs in and around work zones.
· Develop more consistent looking work zones: Multi-lane construction projects with two lanes merging into one will have a more consistent look. Directional barricades have been added to aid the driver in navigating construction areas.
· Use of remote-controlled flagger devices: Using federal research funds, IDOT is purchasing 20 newly-developed remote flagger workstations.
· “Trooper in a Truck”: To allow troopers to covertly enforce speed limits, out-of-uniform troopers equipped with radar technology will sit in IDOT trucks to monitor motorists.
· Hired-back officers: $1.7 million has been identified and requested by IDOT engineers to fund additional troopers in work zones throughout the state. The additional troopers would allow ISP commanders to deploy work zone details in areas of heightened safety concerns.
“Illinois State Troopers will be working closer than ever before with Illinois Department of Transportation engineers. Instead of one trooper per work zone as in the past, the ISP will have multiple troopers working enforcement details in work zones,” said ISP Director Larry Trent. “Together, we will make working and driving on Illinois’ highways safer than ever before.”
“Anybody who doesn’t take these laws seriously needs to know that the Illinois State Police will take a zero tolerance approach to drivers who speed through these work zones,” Governor Blagojevich said. “If you get stopped for speeding in these zones, you’re not going to get a warning. You’re going to get a $375 speeding ticket.”
The cost associated with nearly all the work zone safety strategies and initiatives will be accomplished through existing resources or included in the cost of construction projects through the competitive bidding process.
Governor Blagojevich thanked Rep. Patrick Verschoore (D-Rock Island), chief sponsor of HB 7015. The Governor encouraged members of the Illinois General Assembly to approve the tough new enforcement and punitive efforts this Spring and he urged drivers to slow down in highway maintenance and construction zones.
“Our workers are heading out to the highways this summer to make our roads safer. We need to do everything we can to protect them,” said the Governor. “By taking these steps, I believe we can stop speeders before they take any more lives and make Illinois highways safer for everyone.”