Rhonda Oaks

Rhonda Oaks

I decided to watch an old movie a while back and, of course, it starred Tom Cruise. After watching ‘‘Top Gun’’ for the billionth time, the song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins stuck in my head for days afterward.

As I was humming it the next day, I realized while the men and women of TxDOT who work on the roadways are not Tom Cruise, nor do they fly fighter jets, they really are heroes who exhibit the same alertness and bravery that our law enforcement and first responders must exhibit daily to stay safe.

We emphasize safety in work zones usually in the spring of the year with our “Work Zone Awareness” safety campaign, but I am convinced some drivers might need to be reminded. Our employees have safety minutes, daily tailgate safety meetings and we never start a meeting without a safety message, yet we can also forget. We know when we do that an accident is likely to occur.

It bothers me that in several Lufkin District counties recently, TxDOT workers or contract employees have had near misses with vehicles being driven by drivers who were not paying attention in a work zone.

One vehicle even careened inside the barricades, barely missing workers. When our employees reach out for additional support from law enforcement or ask that I issue alerts for motorists to please slow down, it tells me they are in a danger zone.

While a work zone is expertly designed to be safe for workers and motorists, it becomes a danger zone when you have just one driver who is not alert.

It is alarming to me that there were 58,125 non-injury work zone crashes statewide in 2019. You can inspect these and a variety of other statistics at tinyurl.com/y5qdqorf. The number reflects all the fender-benders, backing, minor crashes and near-misses inside a work zone caused by drivers who were not paying attention. There also were 554 crashes with suspected injuries.

But the fatalities within a work zone is the scariest number of all — 168 statewide. That represents 168 people who got up that day just like every day. Preparing to go to work, school or run errands. But because of distracted driving, speed and other variables, they died and never made it home.

Yes, our guys are heroes. I would never have the courage to work inside a work zone. Yet, TxDOT has many dedicated, brave men and women who do. That is their office every day. When you see the signs of an upcoming work zone — and you can’t miss the bright orange signs in different sizes, shapes and even lighted video message boards — please slow down. Prepare to stop.

Remember, when you enter a work zone you are driving near working heroes who want to make it home safely and who don’t want to have to run for their lives while doing their jobs.

A work zone can become a danger zone for you and the workers if there is a single inattentive driver nearby, whether it results in a near miss, a crash, an injury or a fatality.

Please respect our roadway heroes and stay alert when you drive through a work zone.

Rhonda Oaks is the public information officer for TxDOT’s Lufkin district. Her email address is Rhonda.Oaks@txdot.gov.