The Minnesota State Patrol has a clear message for motorists who zip through constructions zone at higher than posted speeds: Get ready for a $300 ticket.
Motorists who speed through a work zone will now be fined $300 under a new state law that became effective Friday, Aug. 1.
The new law is designed to help increase work zone safety and protect Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) workers as well as the general driving public.
“The Minnesota State Patrol is going to aggressively enforce this new law,” said Lt. Brad Ouart during a Monday afternoon news conference in St. Cloud.
“We don’t look at this as a difference in how we enforce the law,” Ouart said. “We are using this as a platform to get people’s attention to reduce these types of deaths and get the word out about safety.”
MnDOT public affairs coordinator J.P. Gillach said there are thousands of workers in work zones across the state everyday.
During the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill to encourage drivers to slow down and pay more attention in work zones. The new law increases the fine for speeding through work zones to a flat $300 fine.
“It doesn’t matter what county or what road you are driving on, after Friday, the $300 fine will be applied statewide,” Gillach said.
MnDOT employee Matt Zinniel was hit twice in past year within a construction work zone. Zinniel said work zones are marked with flashing lights, orange cones and barrels.
“I’ve been with MnDOT seven years,” he said. “I want every driver to know that my life depends on you recognizing and respecting work zones. I want Minnesota’s drivers to know that Minnesota’s work zones are everywhere, and they are high risk areas”
Zinniel has been hit twice while working within a zone. “I’m very fortunate to be here today to talk about those incidents,” he said.
In June 2013, Zinniel was spraying weeds next to a guardrail on Highway 71 north of Sauk Centre and was on the shoulder of the road with the tires of his orange dump truck were to the right of the fog line. He was completely out of the driving lanes.
“My rear facing strobe lights were on when I was rear-ended by a semi. My head took out the rear window of the truck and I was fortunate to walk away. This past winter, I was in my truck with my rear-facing strobe lights on when I stopped on Highway 28 near Grey Eagle to assist a stranded motorist and I was again rear-ended. I was fortunate enough to walk away. I’ve been involved in other close calls throughout my career,” he added.
Ouart said during Monday’s news conference he’s listened to the contraction zone safety messages many times, but for him, the key number is 31 work zone fatalities since 2010.
“Those numbers catch everybody’s attention,” he said. “They are staggering, but as a State Trooper, we are the ones who end up going to these peoples families. These are fathers, mothers and loves ones who are being killed. This is why we do what we do. The reality is we are trying to send a message, working with MnDOT, simply asking motorists to slow down and pay attention, so that our MnDOT workers stay safe.”
According to Ouart, national statistics show four out of the five people who die in work zones are passengers and drivers. “It’s not just DOT workers,” he said. “It’s citizens, workers and troopers as well. What this law does is put more teeth into the existing law. It makes the $300 fine standard across the board and entire state,’ Ouart added.
“We understand the urgency of any work zone crash,” Gillach said. “Some, but not all work zones have a requirement for a tow truck to be assigned to the area. We have a 24/7 truck assigned to the Monticello construction zone. Not all zones are like that. Our goal is clearing traffic and getting the roadway moving again. That’s part of the reason why we are here today [for this news conference]. We are trying to get people to understand they need to slow down so one crash doesn’t lead to another and back up traffic. It’s not always the first incident that hurts or kills somebody. It could be one that’s further down the road.”
It could be possible to assign Minnesota State Patrol troopers to the Monticello construction zone on a full-time basis, Gillach said, but the cost of doing so would have to be considered.
“We have to evaluate the need versus the issues we are trying to address,” he said. “That’s something that we take seriously.”
Ouart said the Monticello I-94 reconstruction project has troopers working it frequently.
“We are aware that it’s a high-volume zone, and we definitely see the need and urgency behind enforcement in that zone. We have put resources there in the past, and we will be putting resources there now.” Gillach said traffic in the Monticello I-94 zone is moving on newly built westbound lanes.
“We flip-flopped it, but from the driver’s perspective, it has narrower lanes with a 55 mile per hour speed limit. There are different ramps that have been opened and closed. Eastbound I-94 at Highway 25 doesn’t have an exit ramp open, so drivers have to use the County 18 exit and find their way back to downtown Monticello. Westbound ramps, with the exception of the County 19 on-ramp, are open,” he said.
Many crashes in work zones are directly related to distracted driving and rear-end crashes, Ouart said.
“Give yourself more distance between vehicles and pay attention,” he said. “There may not be a state law that prevents you from being on your phone, but common sense would tell you to not be on your phone. In a work zone, those are hazardous and changing environments. Those are areas that require a different level of driving attention. Again, drivers need to slow down and pay attention.”
Minnesota’s move-over law all applies to all emergency vehicles, Ouart said. That includes MnDOT trucks, snowplows and other surface vehicles working a roadway. “Basically, if you see emergency vehicles on the shoulder, the law requires you to move over to the next opposing lane to give workers a safe zone.”
Inattentive driving has become an epidemic, Gillach said. “People really need to understand they need to pay attention to work zone signs of all types. Those signs protect real workers. You have to recognize you are in a high-risk area. It’s not a regular roadway. Remember Monticello goes from 70 mph to 55 mph.”