Sixty-eight percent of the nation’s highway contractors had motor vehicles crash into their construction work zones during the past year, according to the results of a new highway work zone study recently conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials added that the study found those work-zone crashes are more likely to kill construction workers than they are to kill vehicle operators or passengers.

“Any time your jobsite is just a few feet away from fast-moving traffic, things can get a little too exciting,” said Tom Brown, the chair of the association’s national highway and transportation division and president of Vista, Calif.-based Sierra Pacific West. “Since construction workers don’t get the option of wearing seatbelts, they are more likely to be killed in a work-zone crash than motorists are.”

Brown said that 28% of contractors report their workers were injured during work-zone crashes this past year, and 18% had at least one construction worker killed during those crashes. While they are less likely to kill motor vehicle operators and passengers, highway work-zone crashes do pose a significant risk for people in cars, Brown added. He noted that more than 50% of work-zone crashes injure vehicle operators or users, and 15% of those crashes kill them.

Work-zone crashes also have a pronounced impact on construction schedules and costs, Brown added. He said that 35% of contractors reported that work-zone crashes during the past year forced them to temporarily shut down construction activity. Those delays were often lengthy, as 47% of those project shutdowns lasted two or more days, Brown noted.

Association officials said that 75% of contractors nationwide feel that tougher laws, fines and legal penalties for moving violations in work zones would reduce injuries and fatalities. And 66% of contractors nationwide agree that more frequent safety training for workers could help. They added that many firms and the association have crafted highway safety programs.

But Brown suggested that the best way to improve safety was for motorists to be more careful while driving through highway work zones. “The easiest way to improve work zone safety is to get motorists to slow down and pay attention,” Brown said. “When motorists see construction signs and orange barrels, they need to take the foot off the gas, put the phone down and keep their eyes on the road.”

The work zone safety study was based on a nationwide survey of highway construction firms the association conducted in March and April of this year. Nearly 400 contractors completed the survey.