(KYTX) - The Gregg County Sheriff's Office has a piece of advice for motorists: If you're going to speed, don't do it in a work zone.
The Gregg County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Department of Transportation's Tyler District are using National Work Zone Awareness Week, which begins Monday, to implement a new program called "Hashtag: Safezone" aimed at reducing crashes and fatalities in active work zones.
The concept is simple. TxDOT and local law enforcement agencies throughout the Tyler District will use existing social media feeds, particularly Twitter, to announce the location of upcoming or active work zones. When the hashtag "#safezone" is added to the tweet, it means there is a strong possibility of a patrol car monitoring that work zone for speeders or motorists not paying attention.
"Speed and distraction are the two most common causes for work zone crashes," said TxDOT public information officer Larry Krantz. "We're grateful to the Gregg County Sheriff's Office for their willingness to help keep our workers safe as they do their jobs."
And it's not only the workers who need protecting. Four out of every five people killed in work zones are either drivers or passengers passing through the work zone.
"We're hoping that by using Twitter and other social media outlets, the word will spread quickly not only about where we'll be working, but where motorists might also encounter a law enforcement officer monitoring the work," Krantz said. "I'd love it if that helped change driver behavior in and around the work zone, but I'd settle for this message helping motorists decide to seek an alternate route."
Across Texas, there can be more than 2,500 active TxDOT work zones at any given time. Last year, 17,266 work zone crashes resulted in 3,522 serious injuries and 115 fatalities. As roadway maintenance and construction efforts continue to address a state population that grows by about 1,000 people per day, drivers should expect to encounter a work zone at any time.
In many work zones, posted signs warn drivers that traffic fines can increase if they disobey posted speed limits and other warning signs. Since 1938, TxDOT has lost 103 employees to a third-party vehicle crash on or near a roadway.
Outside of TxDOT work zones, drivers also are reminded to move over or slow down when approaching work crews, vehicles and other equipment performing maintenance and clean-up along roadways. Failure to do so can result in a fine up to $2,000.
During National Work Zone Awareness Week, TxDOT's permanent dynamic message signs along state highways and roadways will remind drivers to use caution, be safe and drive smart in work zones.