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SALT LAKE CITY — Across the country, road construction workers are regularly hurt and even killed in construction zones by out-of-control vehicles. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 70 percent of those crashes are caused by distracted drivers.
"On any project, safety is the No. 1 concern," said Travis Ackermann, a UDOT project engineer.
Two workers with the Utah Department of Transportation were killed in constructions zones while managing traffic in recent years. Nationally, the numbers are much higher: 10 workers were killed managing traffic in work zones in 2011.
The project engineer wanted to find a better way to save the lives of workers and motorists in construction zones. When he discovered temporary, portable rumble strips the state had already purchased, he knew he had to try them out.
"This is the first element of signage or traffic control that you would hit," said Ackermann.
The system is called RoadQuake. Some motorists may have already driven across the plastic rumble strips in several parts of the state. Those who have not, will likely cross them soon.
The idea is, as you go across them, if you're texting or distracted, it alerts you that something on the road is different. You pay attention as you go through the rest of the work zone.
–Travis Ackermann, UDOT project engineer
Work crews can quickly position the rumble strips across a full lane of traffic in multiple sets of three.
"The idea is, as you go across them, if you're texting or distracted, it alerts you that something on the road is different. You pay attention as you go through the rest of the work zone," the engineer said.
Ackermann said too many motorists ignore the signs warning them to slow down for construction. The RoadQuake rumble strips are difficult to ignore.
"I don't think we can find anybody who goes over this and does not get that message," said Ackermann.
"As a vehicle comes and drives directly over them, they get an audible and vibratory alert inside the vehicle," said Dario Alvarez, a representative of the Texas-based company that invented the system.
The Kansas DOT challenged the workers at Plastic Safety Systems, Inc. to come up with temporary, portable rumble strips to provide better safety for construction zones. So, they did.
In Texas, they are now mandatory any time workers close a lane of traffic. When the state started using RoadQuake, it had the highest work zone fatality rate in the nation. Today?
"Where RoadQuake has been used, there have been zero fatalities," said Alvarez.
UDOT hopes to see the same results.
"It's a night-and-day difference," said Ackermann.
The UDOT engineer said they're also an affordable, cost-effective approach to a deadly problem. He said the system costs only a few dollars a day to use when measured over the long life of the product.