Work Zone Safety Legislation moves forward

Those who know me, personally or professionally, know that my latest legislative project in South Carolina has been to seek to rewrite and toughen laws on work zone enforcement. While the challenge of making work zones safer has been a professional problem for years, it became much more personal back in March of last year when a drunk driver entered a lane closure, ramming and destroying my personal vehicle while I was doing a site inspection.

I can tell numerous stories and show numerous examples of where my co-workers had close calls, the reality is that work zones are at least as dangerous for motorists. In over a decade in the industry, not a single company employee was killed or seriously injured in a work zone incident, while eight motorists and three pedestrians have died in our work zones.

Work zone safety reform is about protecting workers AND motorists.

Senate Bill 139 is the legislation which was filed by Senators Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley County), Chair of Senate Transportation Committee and Larry Martin (R-Pickens County), Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation will add a dedicated penalty to cover law enforcement costs, allowing the state to hire additional law enforcement officers, along with an additional two-point penalty against one's license. Similar legislation was filed in the 2011-2012 legislative session, but died when that session ended back in the summer.

In addition to safety concerns, there are other considerations that are driving this legislation:

  • Presently, S.C. Highway Patrol coverage in work zones is paid for out of SCDOT construction funding, taking millions of dollars from construction projects. But there are other costs as unsafe work zones require more protective measures and increase costs for the state and contractors alike.
  • Some of the costs for those measures are tacked onto construction bids and other costs are absorbed by contractors directly or indirectly through higher insurance premiums which follow work zone incidents. Also, workers are less productive and more cautious in hazardous work situations, slowing work down and increasing costs for construction. Thus tougher work zone enforcement is intended to save lives, speed up construction and reduce the costs of these projects.

Other legislators are expected to join this effort in the coming weeks and we hope to move the legislation to hearings and a vote in the 2013 session. Stay tuned.

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