Twenty-five state transportation departments from Washington to New York, along with dozens of local agencies and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), held events across the country yesterday to mark the beginning of National Work Zone Awareness Week.

FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez joined family members of victims killed in work zone accidents for the national kick-off event. Hosted by New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Stan Gee in Manhattan's Battery Park, the event also included representatives from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that represents state departments of transportation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

In 2009, 700 people died in highway work zone accidents in the U.S. "The real tragedy here is that these are preventable deaths," said Anthony Kane, director of engineering and technical services for AASHTO. "Most of the people killed in work zone accidents each year die in vehicles. Many of the victims are speeding or distracted drivers and the unfortunate passengers in their vehicles."

The week's slogan, Work Zones Need Your Undivided Attention, is aimed at persuading drivers to keep their eyes on the road and to slow down, especially when approaching and passing through highway work zones. "What we've found is that the majority of victims are not construction workers in the highway construction sites — it's civilian motorists and passengers traveling into the zones who are the fatalities," said Tony Dorsey, AASHTO's news media and information director.

During National Work Zone Awareness Week, at least two states are participating in Operation Orange, a campaign that encourages local businesses, government agencies and state employees to wear and/or prominently display the color orange as a reminder to drive safely through work zones. Several other states are participating in Operation Drive Smart, an enforcement campaign targeting speeding and aggressive driving in highway work zones.

National Work Zone Awareness Week started April 19 and runs through April 23. A complete list of state DOT events can be found on AASHTO's Web site.

Government administrators and officials who want to get involved in the Awareness Week program should contact their state department of transportation or the FHWA office in their state, Dorsey said. "There's tremendous opportunity for growth in getting more organizations and institutions like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and other well-know safety organizations involved in Awareness Week," Dorsey told

Awareness week is usually staged in early April to coincide with the start of highway construction and repair season.

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