Work Zone Safety

It is illegal to talk on a handheld mobile device while driving in a Wisconsin road work zone.

View 2015 Wisconsin Act 308.

The law is part of ongoing efforts to reduce distracted driving and increase safety for motorists and workers throughout the state. Drivers caught in violation face fines of up to $40 on first offense and $100 for subsequent offenses. Following the law is simple. Just remember: Orange cones – Put down the phones!

Learn more about no handheld mobile device use in work zones.

Recognizing work zones

Any time people are working in a street or highway near traffic, drivers and workers are at risk:

  • Major road construction
  • Emergency vehicles at the side of the road
  • A snowplow flashing its warning lights
  • Everyday garbage pickup.

In Wisconsin, they’re all work zones. Being able to identify the work zones up ahead can save lives. So learn the signs of a work zone: flashing lights, utility or emergency vehicles, orange signs, flags, barrels and cones. And, of course, people.

Driving in work zones

To protect themselves and others, drivers need to slow down whenever they see flashing lights, or move over, if possible, to leave the lane beside the work zone open. In some construction areas, lowered speed limits are posted and must be obeyed at all times.

Remember, when you enter a work zone, be patient. Worrying about the time and traffic won’t get you anywhere faster. Instead, slow down and pay attention to your surroundings. These tips can help you get in and out of a work zone safely:

  • Don’t fool around. Eliminate distractions like eating, drinking, talking on the phone, or fiddling with electronic devices.
  • Expect the unexpected. Speed limits may be reduced, traffic lanes may be changed, and people and vehicles may be working on or near the road.
  • Slow down. A car traveling 60 mph travels 88 feet per second, and the faster you go the longer it takes to stop.
  • Give yourself room. Rear-end collisions are the most common work zone crashes, so don’t tailgate.
  • Allow about three seconds of braking distance. Look for signs. Orange, diamond-shaped signs usually give you ample warning of lane closings, construction areas, and flaggers and other workers ahead.
  • Be patient. If you don’t see workers, that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Observe the signs until you see one that says you’ve left the work zone.
  • Plan ahead. Leave early or map out an alternate route. Find the latest road conditions and work zone news at 511 Wisconsin.
  • Follow the law. Slow down and move over, if possible, when you see flashing lights.

If you break down in a work zone

Whether it’s a blown tire or running out of gas, breakdowns are never a good thing. They can be especially challenging in road construction zones. It’s crucially important for motorists to be aware of their surroundings to stay safe. Wisconsin is one of many states that operates highway safety patrols for basic roadside service in some major work zones. This is done in the interest of keeping everyone safe by relocating disabled vehicles, brushing away debris and helping to manage traffic.

If you do break down in a work zone, it’s important to keep cool and follow these guidelines:

  • Turn on your hazard lights. It’s important to warn other motorists of your presence.
  • If you are OK and your vehicle is drivable, the Wisconsin Steer It, Clear It law requires you to move your vehicle to a safe location, away from traffic. Look for ramps or temporary pull-off zones.
  • Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened. Your vehicle is typically the safest place to await roadside assistance. If you get out of your vehicle, you risk exposing yourself to potential work zone hazards such as unprotected drops, rough walking areas or construction equipment.
  • Reserve calling 911 for true emergencies such as crashes, injuries or if your vehicle is inoperable in a lane of traffic. Wisconsin’s highway safety patrols and roadside assistance providers are adequately equipped to help with smaller issues such as running out of gas or having a flat tire.
  • Keep contact information for your insurance company or roadside assistance provider with you.
  • Know where you are, especially if you do need to call for help. Being aware of mile markers or guide signs will make it much easier for someone to find you.
  • Be prepared. It’s a good idea to keep a few items in your car to help in the event of a breakdown, including a visibility vest, a charged mobile phone, a first-aid kit, a warm blanket, extra clothing, water and snacks.

Know the signs

Right lane ends road sign

Right lane ends

Merge carefully. Don’t risk everyone’s safety by forcing your way into the line at the last minute.

Flagger ahead road sign

Flagger ahead

Slow down and be prepared to stop. A real person is out on the road.

Two way traffic road sign

Two-way traffic

Be alert. One travel lane means traffic will be right next to you.

Road work 1,500 feet

Road work in 1500 feet

Slow down. At 60 mph, the work zone is just 17 seconds away.

Paying for work zone carelessness

In Wisconsin, we take work zone safety seriously. The penalties for careless driving are steep.

  • It can cost you money. A normal speeding ticket can be expensive, but that’s nothing compared to traffic violations made in the zone. In a work zone, penalties are doubled – and fines usually increase every year.
  • It can cost you time. The consequences for injuring or killing someone in a work zone are especially serious. Careless drivers may face thousands of dollars in fines and up to 31/2 years in prison if they injure someone in a work zone. The fines for vehicular manslaughter are even higher, as are the prison terms – as many as 10 years. These punishments may increase if the driver was intoxicated or a repeat offender.
  • It can cost your life. The greatest cost of irresponsible driving isn’t calculated in dollars or years. Wisconsin sees nearly 2,000 work zone crashes a year. Sometimes, people die. And those tragedies change the lives of everyone left behind – workers, drivers and passengers, family and friends.

The fact is, people who work along Wisconsin’s roads are extremely vulnerable. But not every crash in the zone involves workers. In reality, drivers and their passengers are the most common work zone fatalities.

Driving safely protects people on the road and the people in your own car. Driving safely protects you. So follow the rules, follow the law. And be safer in the zone.