This past week was designated as Work Zone Awareness Week across the country.

It is an annual public service awareness campaign held at the start of “construction season” to encourage safe driving through highway and other roadway work zones.

Work zones are among the most dangerous places to drive due to altered traffic patterns, poor visibility and other hazards and distractions.

How dangerous? Nationally, work zone crashes occur at an average of one every 5.8 minutes.

Within hours of the start of this week’s observance, MoDOT reported that one of its vehicles was struck while protecting a crew removing large debris from the roadway on Interstate 64 in St. Louis.

Last year, MoDOT had a record number of its vehicles struck across the state. The state transportation agency says it is on pace to match or exceed last year’s record numbers.

Work zone safety is a serious problem here and across the country. Last year, 27 people were killed in work zone crashes in Missouri, according to MoDOT. Between 2016 and 2020, 3,757 people were injured in Missouri work zone crashes. Since 2000, 19 MoDOT employees have been killed in the line of duty. 13 of those incidents occurred in work zones.

Despite public awareness campaigns and tougher laws for those who cause crashes in work zones, there is data suggesting they are increasing.

A recent Pew Report found that despite an overall decrease in traffic because of the COVID-19 pandemic, work zone injuries and fatalities actually rose in many areas in 2020.

According to most recent data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, between 2018 and 2019, fatal crashes in work zones increased by 11 percent, and fatal crashes outside of work zones decreased by 2 percent.

In 2019, nearly one quarter of all fatal work zone crashes involved rear-end collisions. And drivers and passengers are actually more likely to be killed or injured in a work zone than workers are.

Experts say the top three causes of work zone crashes are cars following too closely, inattentive and/or distracted drivers and excessive speed.

Roadside flaggers do their best to direct motorists and other road users around the work zone while keeping everybody safe. But safety experts say even the best preparation doesn’t always prevent collisions or other work zone incidents.

That’s because reduced speeds and long wait times, altered traffic patterns and confusing traffic flow mean other drivers are likely to be distracted, frustrated or aggressive.

Work zones can be confusing and dangerous places for the average motorist. But slowing down and being cautious are things we can all do to reduce work zone crashes. It isn’t that complicated.

It’s time to get serious about reducing work zone crashes. Give yourself and those who do the dangerous work of repairing our roads and bridges a break by using a little common sense in work zones.