Distracted driving is costing people their lives

It’s Work Zone Awareness Week and both construction workers and emergency responders are asking the public to pay attention when they see workers on the road.

In 2018, there were more than 3,000 crashes in Wisconsin work zones, more than 1,200 injuries and nine deaths.

During construction season, the La Crosse County Highway Department said, they see close calls almost every week and they’re asking for the public’s help stopping it.

Damian Weiland works at the La Crosse County Highway Department.

“Our office is where everybody’s travailing 75 miles per hour,” Weiland said.

Weiland has worked for the highway department for seven years.

“There’s been plenty of near misses,” Weiland said.

He quickly found out about the dangers that come with the job.

“Before I started here, there was a guy that got hit on the interstate while he was in the crash truck. It threw him into the median and it was a bad, bad deal,” Weiland said.

A couple of years ago, Weiland and a small crew were working on the interstate.

“We were spraying out bridge joints,” Weiland said.

The job was supposed to be quick and easy but that all changed in the blink of an eye.

“The truck that was coming through hit a car that was going much slower and spun the car out and pushed it right into the back of our semitruck. We were there maybe five seconds before that. There (would have) been four people crushed right there,” Weiland said.

He often still thinks about that moment.

“You think about some of the crashes that have happened and places that you’ve been where a crash happened right after that. It weighs on you,” Weiland said.

Ron Chamberlain, the highway commissioner of the La Crosse County Highway Department, said the department has been trying to invest time and resources into preventing those types of crashes from happening.

“Anytime my folks are out on the road, I’m concerned with their safety. We invest significant dollars into safety for work zones, updated barrels, cones, signage,” Chamberlain said.

Unfortunately, the department said the problem has only gotten worse over the years and it’s really up to the public to change that.

“We are doing everything we can do. It really is to the point where the drivers need to pay attention when they’re coming in and slow down,” Chamberlain said.

Weiland hopes the public will listen and drive better, but after his incident he’s never taking his eye off the road.

“If you get comfortable out there, that’s when something bad is probably going to happen,” Weiland said.

The La Crosse County Highway Department says the highest risk areas are the interstate because of the

high speed and areas such as Highway 16 near the mall because of heavy traffic.

Keep in mind, penalties are doubled in work zones. Careless drivers may face thousands of dollars in fines and up to 3.5 years in prison if they injure someone in a work zone in Wisconsin.

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