In fiscal year 2023, automated speed cameras caught 335,888 people speeding through work zones, the Maryland Department of Transportation reported, endangering the lives of as many as 1,000 state employees and contractors at work on the state’s roadways each day.

The Maryland General Assembly now has an opportunity to better protect these hardworking Marylanders by passing the Maryland Road Worker Protection Act of 2024 (SB 479, HB 513). The bill would strengthen enforcement by allowing multiple unmanned speed cameras in work zones and boosting the penalties for an automated citation.

This proposed law is the result of months of study from the Work Zone Safety Work Group, established by Gov. Wes Moore following the tragic deaths of six roadway workers when a speeding car hurtled through barriers on I-695 and into their work zone. The work group, led by Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller, herself a transportation engineer, brought together stakeholders from every area of the transportation sector — government, law enforcement, contractors, emergency responders, safety engineers, construction companies and the workers themselves.

The work group identified the driving behaviors that contribute to work zone crashes — distracted driving, impaired driving and excessive speeding — and developed recommendations to change these behaviors. It concluded that Maryland needs a three-pronged approach to create a “culture change” among drivers — administrative, budgetary and legislative — akin to the safety measures that pushed lifesaving seatbelt use from 58% in 1994 to 91% in 2019.

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Among the administrative recommendations are campaigns to encourage driver safety and courtesy, promotions to grow awareness of Maryland laws, such as the Move Over law, and improved signage that alerts drivers to upcoming work zones. The group also recommended investment in billboards to inform drivers of work zone penalties, additional Maryland State Police presence in work zones and additional funding for Work Zone Maintenance of Traffic inspections and audits.

The legislative prong focuses simply on updating Maryland’s outdated 2009 law for speed cameras in work zones to account for new technology and making a citation from such devices tougher. The House passed the newer bill March 12, and it now awaits action in the Senate before the General Assembly adjourns at midnight April 8.

We know that speed camera citations are one way to change driver behavior. During fiscal year 2022, less than 10% of all violations issued were for second or subsequent offenses, and just 2.1% of all violators got three or more citations, MDOT reported. A technical analysis of the bill predicts that the number of citations will decrease by about 15% every year as more drivers become aware of the speed cameras and the tough penalties for driving recklessly through a work zone. Those numbers show clearly that speed cameras discourage carelessness and speeding in work zones.

The crash that killed six workers at midday last March on the inner loop of the Baltimore Beltway occurred as two cars were traveling at excessive speeds and much faster than adjacent traffic, the National Transportation Safety Board found. The driver of the Acura that struck the workers first collided with a 2017 Volkswagen Jetta, spun out of control and passed through an opening in the concrete barriers separating the work zone from the traffic lanes. The opening was one of several access points meant for construction vehicles to enter the work zone. The car barreled through the work zone, striking construction materials and six workers before it overturned.

The driver of the Jetta, Melachi Duane Darnell Brown, has pleaded guilty to six counts of negligent vehicular manslaughter. The trial for the driver of the Acura, Lisa Adrienne Lea, is scheduled for April 1.

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The people who died on March 22, 2023 — Rolando Ruiz, Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, Jose Armando Escobar, father and son Mahlon Simmons II and Mahlon Simmons III and Sybil Lee DiMaggio — left behind spouses and children, friends and co-workers who still grieve their loss.

The potential for loss is even greater. Last year, vehicles crashed into 1,200 work sites. Yet, each day, our fellow Maryland residents report to their jobs on our roads and highways, fully aware of the risks they face.

“For the people who work on these sites, it’s not a matter of if they will experience a crash on their job site. It’s a matter of when,” Miller told a House Environment and Transportation Committee Feb. 15.

That’s unacceptable.

Protecting these critical public service workers, Miller said, is a “moral imperative.” At the Laborers’ International Union of North America, we agree. We urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass the Maryland Road Worker Protection Act of 2024 as the first step in changing driver behavior.

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In the end, though, it’s up to Maryland drivers to embrace safety and courtesy as their rules of the road by obeying speed limits, refraining from aggressive driving and giving road workers the safe space they need to do their jobs.

Ryan N. Boyer is business manager of the Laborers’ District Council of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, an affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Mid-Atlantic Region. The union is among those that represent Maryland’s roadworkers.

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