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Number of near-misses in N.B. highway construction zones growing ‘significantly’

Highway workers raising concerns over road safety
Highway workers are voicing concerns about near misses and even a collision last month. But as Callum Smith reports, they say distracted driving and speed are two significant factors that are putting lives at risk.

Highway workers are voicing safety concerns about a rise in near misses, and even a recent collision, in construction zones.

Speeding and distracted driving are the top two concerns, says Tom McGinn, the executive director of the New Brunswick Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association (NB RBHCA).

“We hear continually vehicles not slowing down in construction zones, distracted drivers; people on their cellphones,” says McGinn.

“That’s disturbing and very concerning… Because there’s not a lot of room on the highways, and if you’re not paying attention, something serious could happen.”

The New Brunswick government tweeted a chilling video earlier this week, warning people of several recent near-misses between vehicles and workers in highway construction zones.

The video was captured from a worksite near Saint John in 2019, a Department of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson confirms.

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“The purpose of posting this video is not to lay blame, but to raise awareness on how quickly accidents can happen,” spokesperson Jeremy Trevors says in a statement. “There were no injuries and the driver pulled over immediately to apologize.”

The provincial government is hoping the video will reinforce the need to follow posted speed limits in construction zones and for people to always be paying attention on the road, he says.

Read more: City of Saskatoon unveils new vehicles to keep workers safer following accidents

SNC-Lavalin, which is responsible for the operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of 275 km of highway from the Quebec border to west of Fredericton and between Woodstock and the U.S. border, says the number of incidents are climbing “significantly” over the last five years.

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Even more concerning is that there have been few attempts to avoid a collision, suggesting people just aren’t paying attention, says Andrew Christie, the quality, safety and environment manager for SNC-Lavalin.

“Its not that they’re losing control of their vehicle and end up hitting it,” he tells Global News via a Zoom interview. “There’s many occasions where the brakes are hit just before they impact the vehicle.”

New Brunswick MLAs reject quadrupling fines for distracted driving
New Brunswick MLAs reject quadrupling fines for distracted driving

A fatal collision on the Trans-Canada Highway in June involved a highway worker.

RCMP said at the time a transport truck driver died at the scene after rear-ending a highway safety truck in Dumfries, N.B., near Nackawic.

The occupant of that vehicle was taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries.

McGinn, meanwhile, says doubling speed fines in construction zones is great, but more enforcement is needed.

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Read more: Tougher rules coming to make driving on New Brunswick highways safer

For its part, New Brunswick RCMP say their Tactical Traffic Enforcement Unit conducted 70 operations in construction zones in June, leading to 67 violations or tickets. More operations have been conducted in July, Mounties say.

WorkSafe New Brunswick says both motorists and employers have an important role to keep people safe.

“People that are working there on the side of the road… they have families, and in many cases, they have young families, who expect them to come home,” says Tim Petersen, WorkSafe’s vice-president of prevention.

One thing all these organizations agree on? More awareness and education are needed to keep people safe.

An annual awareness campaign is ongoing to help spread the word.