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Hochul announces year-end results of initiatives to keep highway workers safe


Fri, Dec 8th 2023 03:55 pm

‘Operation Hardhat,’ work zone speed enforcement pilot program and new ‘Move Over’ law aim to strengthen highway safety for workers & motorists

As construction throughout much of New York state begins to wind down with winter weather setting in, Gov. Kathy Hochul highlighted the year-end results of several initiatives designed to keep highway workers and motorists safe throughout the state. These include a new work zone speed enforcement pilot program, a partnership between state transportation agencies in cooperation with state and local law enforcement entities, and a new law designed to better protect motorists in disabled vehicles.

Hochul’s team said, “The Legislature worked hard to introduce and pass these essential measures over the last several years, and the initiatives were then implemented with the support and assistance of the state’s partners in organized labor and the contracting industry, whose members also work in dangerous environments for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”

Hochul said, “New York has zero tolerance for negligent or aggressive behavior that endangers our men and women in labor who work hard every day to keep us moving. Work zone speed limits and other restrictions protect highway workers making our roads safer for everyone, and the actions we have taken this year are proving to be effective.”

Automated Work Zone Speed Monitoring Pilot Program

A press release stated, “Speeding through highway work zones endangers workers and other motorists and is a common factor in dangerous work zone intrusions.”

In April, as construction season was officially kicking off across the state, Hochul announced the launch of an automated work zone speed monitoring pilot program at 20 sites operated by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and 10 on the New York State Thruway. The program was established by legislation signed into law by Hochul and is intended to improve speed limit compliance and slow vehicles down in work zones. More information about the pilot program can be found here.

Through Nov. 22, 133,640 notices of liability were issued to motorists across the state, including 95,861 from work zones controlled by the State Department of Transportation and 37,779 from work zones along the New York State Thruway. Both agencies encountered motorists driving at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour through monitored work zones.

Notices of liability by region were distributed as follows:

  • Long Island – 41,709
  • Rochester/Finger Lakes – 32,578
  • New York City – 12,330
  • Albany/Capital Region – 4,616
  • Binghamton/Southern Tier – 1,200
  • Syracuse/Central New York – 1,140
  • Poughkeepsie/Hudson Valley – 1,016
  • Buffalo/Western New York – 849
  • Hornell/Western Southern Tier – 211
  • Watertown/North Country – 113
  • Utica/Mohawk Valley – 99
  • Thruway – 37,779

Fines through the pilot program are issued as follows:

√ $50 for first violation

√ $75 for second violation

√ $100 for third and subsequent violations within 18 months of the first violation

Unpaid fines may result in a vehicle registration hold and drivers will not be able to renew their registrations without first paying their fines. Owners may contest a violation within 30 days of when they received notice. As required by law, 60% of the funds collected by NYSDOT and the Thruway Authority through the program will supplement work zone safety projects.

Of the approximately 4.9 million vehicles that passed an automated work zone vehicle in a NYSDOT work zone during the first six months of the pilot program, less than 2% were issued violations. More than 7,500 (9%) of all NYSDOT speed violations were repeat offenders.

Of the more than 2.3 million vehicles that passed an automated work zone vehicle in a thruway work zone during the first six months of the pilot program, launched in May, less than 2% were issued violations. During that period, the average speed in work zones with a posted 45 mph speed limit dropped from 47 mph in May to 43 mph in November. The average speed in work zones with a posted speed limit of 55 mph was approximately 50 mph. Despite the speed reductions, more than 1,500 (4%) of all Thruway speed violations were repeat offenders.

‘Operation Hardhat’

Under “Operation Hardhat,” State Troopers or local police officers are dressed as highway maintenance workers in active NYSDOT or thruway work zones across New York, identifying and citing motorists for a number of violations, including disobeying flagging personnel, speeding through work zones, cell phone and seatbelt use, and/or violations of the state’s “Move Over” law. In 2023, 2,919 tickets were issued by State Police and participating law enforcement agencies during 84 deployments across the state.

The 2,919 tickets issued during “Operation Hardhat” this year included the following violations:

  • Speeding – 1,048
  • Cell phone usage – 499
  • Seatbelt – 353
  • Failure to move over – 230
  • Failure to obey traffic control device – 18
  • Unsafe lane change – 3
  • Failure to obey flagger – 1
  • Other violations – 767

Other violations may include but are not limited to tickets issued for cracked windshields, broken headlights, expired inspections, improper exhaust, and unlicensed operation.

Violations by region were distributed as follows:

  • Utica/Mohawk Valley – 504
  • Albany/Capital Region – 438
  • Long Island – 378
  • Syracuse/Central New York – 272
  • Binghamton/Southern Tier – 272
  • Thruway – 258
  • Rochester/Finger Lakes – 222
  • Hornell/Western Southern Tier – 198
  • Watertown/North Country – 174
  • Poughkeepsie/Hudson Valley – 105
  • Buffalo/Western New York – 98

New ‘Move Over Law’

In September, Hochul signed legislation enhancing the existing “Move Over Law” to require drivers to exercise due care to avoid all vehicles stopped on the roadway, including by changing lanes.

The “Move Over Law” has been in place since 2010 and was originally designed to prevent collisions with emergency vehicles. In the years since, the law was expanded to cover hazard vehicles and other responder vehicles.

Nearly 300 drivers are struck and killed roadside every year nationally, and 37 people were struck and killed outside of a disabled vehicle in New York from 2016-20. The most recent amendment expanded the existing law to cover all vehicles stopped on the road.

The state’s “Move Over Law” is personal for Karen Torres, whose father was killed when he was struck by a cement truck while working as part of a NYSDOT road crew. Download her story.

Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “Our highway workers are absolutely critical to all we do here at the Department of Transportation, and I am calling on the very people they serve – the traveling public – to please respect our crew members and the important work that they do. All it takes is a moment’s glance off the road to turn a typical commute into a tragedy with lifelong consequences.”

Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Frank Hoare said, “Over the first six months of the automated work zone speed enforcement pilot program, drivers have noticeably decreased average speeds in our work zones, and the Thruway Authority has seen a drop in average violations issued per month. This is tangible data that represents real change in drivers’ behavior leading to safer work zones for our employees and motorists.”

Acting Superintendent Dominick L. Chiumento said, “The New York State Police is committed to keeping our roadways safe – for those who travel them, and for those who work on them, but this is a team effort. I thank Gov. Hochul and our state agency partners for their commitment to safety initiatives such as these, that have helped to make our roadways safer for all. We also urge drivers to continue to do their part by slowing down and moving over when they see an emergency vehicle or maintenance crew on the shoulder of a road, staying alert, and putting their electronic devices away. Taking these simple steps can and does save lives.”

Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles and chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee Mark J.F. Schroeder said, “In this busy travel season and throughout the year, it is so important to drive safely and to protect our highway workers, whether it is crews working on the road, plow operators or people providing assistance to disabled vehicles. They are there to help, and their families want and need them to come home safely after a hard day of work.”

State Sen. Timothy Kennedy said, “Highway workers dedicate their days to making our roads safer, and yet, every day in doing so, they’re putting their own lives at risk. These initiatives are designed to strengthen safety standards, deter reckless driving, and above all, get these workers – and drivers across New York – home safe to their families at the end of the day.”

Hochul’s team said, “Recognizing and understanding signs leading up to and within a work zone is essential for the safety of all drivers and roadside workers. Motorists are reminded that fines are doubled for speeding in a work zone and, in accordance with the Work Zone Safety Act of 2005, convictions of two or more speeding violations in a work zone could result in the suspension of an individual's driver license. More work zone safety tips can be found at www.ny.gov/workzone.

“Maintenance crews across the state work alongside fast-moving traffic each day, knowing their lives depend on drivers being alert, patient and cautious. It is critically important that motorists eliminate distractions, pay attention to driving, and move over for workers. Throughout construction season, maintenance and work crews are out on the road performing repairs and improvements to ensure roads are safe for motorists. All travelers should be prepared to reduce speeds and to be alert when passing through work zones.”

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