April 10, 2002 11:00 pm

With spring comes more road construction, maintenance and utility work, and with that comes a need for drivers to pay attention to work zones. When you see orange warning signs for work areas along highways and roadways, SLOW DOWN!

People working in the work zones arent the only ones in jeopardy when a driver violates the speed limit. Drivers are also putting themselves and their passengers at risk. In fact, drivers and their passengers are by far the most at risk of death or serious injury in work-zone accidents, said Larry Christianson, Oregons Transportation Safety Division work zone safety coordinator.

Oregon drivers have been doing a better job of paying attention to work zones. The state has seen three straight years of declines in work-zone accidents and fatalities, bucking a national trend. After an all-time high of 21 fatalities in Oregon in 1997, the number fell to 14 in 1998, nine in 1999 and six in 2000. Final figures for 2001 arent in, but the Transportation Safety Division estimates that there were six. Nationally, the numbers have climbed from 658 in 1997, to 772 in 1998, to 868 in 1999, to an alarming 1,092 in 2000. Too many drivers elsewhere are simply being careless and deadly.

THE BIGGEST CAUSES of accidents in work zones is drivers attention being diverted, excessive vehicle speed, and not heeding the warnings in the transition area, according to

national studies.

Oregon drivers are to be commended for the reduction in work-zone accidents. But even though our state is bucking a national trend, it doesnt hurt to reacquaint ourselves with ways to safely navigate work zones. The Transportation Safety Division offers these recommendations:

Pay complete attention to driving, especially in the transition zone before the work area.

Slow down when you see orange barrels, cones and signs even when there is no construction work visible. Hazards still might exist.

Realize its not business as usual in a work zone. Expect the unexpected the roadway may have changed, there might be fewer lanes and there might be a detour or flagger.

Maintain extra space between your vehicle and the one ahead to give yourself extra reaction time in case of a problem.

And drivers should remember that traffic fines double in work zones. An average of 6,000 hazardous driving citations have been issued annually since the law went into effect.

As Oregonians lets commit ourselves to further reducing the number of fatalities and accidents in work zones by paying attention and slowing down.