National Work Zone Safety Week aims to protect drivers, construction workers

CHICAGO (WLS) -- This week is National Work Zone Safety Week and the national kick-off event was held Tuesday in Chicago near the Jane Byrne Interchange construction zone.

The week seeks to raise awareness about keeping drivers and construction workers safe.

"These guys work hard, long hours, tough weather, and they put themselves in harm's way. We need to keep them safe, we need to keep all our drivers safe," Illinois Bruce Rauner said during the kick-off.

Illinois averages more than 5,000 work zone crashes a year, resulting in more than 1,500 injuries.

"It can be scary at times, people aren't paying attention, they're distracted, they're texting, they're talking on the phone, so you really have to on your toes," said laborer Maggie Shepherd.
"I was trying to help another motorist on the left shoulder, some guy, I don't know where he came from, he rear-ended my truck," said Mike Jordan, an Illinois Department of Transportation minuteman. "He had to be doing 60 - 70 miles an hour."

In some construction zones, workers can be as close as two feet from active traffic, which is why it's so important to pay attention, officials said.
"Distracted driving, that's a challenge. I would have to say to you and all the people out there, distracted driving is causing most of the problems we see now," said Leo Schmitz, director of the Illinois State Police.
Some law enforcement officials are still grieving after losing a colleague less than a year ago.

Corey Brooks, director of the Illinois Tollway, noted the death of David Schwarz, a 25-year veteran of the tollway.

Wife Christine Nichols found out her husband Ryan, a civil engineer, was killed in a work zone crash just months after giving birth to twins.
"He was not coming home - not today, not tomorrow, not ever," she said.

At Tuesday's event, 143 construction cones represented the 143 construction workers who were killed throughout the country in 2016.

Heightened enforcement and awareness aims for a safer construction season this year.

The penalty for hitting a worker in a construction zone is a fine of up to $10,000 and 14 years in prison.
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