New `Work Zone' Rules Give a Break and a Brake

Article excerpt

IF YOU ALWAYS hit the brakes and slow to half speed when you drive through a construction zone, Missouri highway engineers have a request for you:

Knock it off.

Though it may seem contradictory, the state's top highway officials have decided that letting drivers cruise through work zones is safer than trying to make them creep through.

So starting this month, you'll rarely see work zones where the limit is 20 or 30 mph less than the normal speed limit.

Instead, engineers will set limits in most urban work zones at just 10 mph under the normal limit, said Roger Schwartze, a field liaison engineer with the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department.

That might seem an odd rule to come from the same people who have asked you for years to give 'em a brake in work zones. And this might seem even more odd:

"There are a lot of cases where we won't reduce the speed limit at all," Schwartze said.

That change is one of several new rules, regulations, laws and policies that will affect drivers in Missouri and Illinois starting this month. We'll take a quick look at others in a moment; first, let's find out why faster is safer.

When you drive through a construction zone where the limit is 20 mph lower than normal, what happens? Typically, a handful of drivers slow down to the posted speed limit, a lot of drivers slow down a few mph, and another handful of drivers don't even think about slowing down.

The result, engineers have discovered, is that cars travel at radically different speeds. And that makes speed zones risky for drivers and workers.

"Work zones are the safest when you can move traffic through the work zone at the most uniform speed," Schwartze said. And the best speed for doing that safely is about 10 mph under the normal limit, he said.

What will happen, as in any speed zone, is that some drivers will slow down to the speed limit, some will stay fast, and others will stay at their original speed. …