BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — This week is work zone awareness week as transportation leaders hope to cut down on fatalities and injuries in construction areas.
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, there were 2,349 work zone crashes in 2021, including 17 fatalities and 420 wrecks that resulted in an injury.
Family members who have lost loved ones hope that awareness campaigns continue to help.
“Brake for Jake. That’s what we say. Brake for Jake,” said Somer Smith, who lost her husband in a construction zone crash in 2016.
Jacob Smith, 35, died after he was hit and killed in Morgan County. Smith was simply doing his job as an ALDOT employee.
“When you pass the work zones and don’t move over or you don’t slow down, you are putting people’s loved ones at risk, you could potentially take away a brother, a sister, a mother, a father,” said Somer Smith.
The couple had twins at the time of Jacob’s death. Somer Smith talked about the difficulty of losing her other half, leaving the children to grow up without their father.
“It’s so hard to not have a partner to help you with things and to love you and to hold your hand or give you a hug when you are sad,” said Smith.
Smith has joined ALDOT for Work Zone Awareness campaigns in the past. She shared a photo of a billboard with her husband’s picture and the phrase ‘Brake for Jake.’
The construction zone law in Alabama is stronger after lawmakers adopted changes in 2021.
Now, drivers are fined $250 or double the regular fine for any moving violation in a construction zone when workers are present. Previously, fines only covered speeding.
The Smith family knows speeding is only part of the equation.
“Looking at your phone, getting distracted, playing with the radio, it could take a second and you could swerve and you could hurt somebody or kill somebody,” said Smith.
With so many ongoing road projects, Somer Smith doesn’t want orange cones and barrels to be commonplace, but instead serve as an important reminder that the zone is full of workers trying to make it home to their families.
“I would tell him that his kids are doing great and that we all miss him and we wish he was here with us,” said Somer Smith.
According to ALDOT, work-zone crashes, work-zone crashes with fatalities, and work-zone crashes with injury all slightly declined from 2020 numbers.
2021 was the third consecutive year work-zone crashes have declined and was the lowest number since 2013.
Still, ALDOT wants to see numbers improve even more.
“These recent numbers show that work zone safety is improving,” said Allison Green, ALDOT Drive Safe Alabama coordinator. “But there is more work that needs to be done, because each injury and fatality represents lives that were forever changed. The men and women who work on our roadways deserve a safe working environment. The best way to keep everyone safe is to drive the speed limit and pay attention.”
For more information on National Work Zone Awareness Week, click here.