By The Herald Editorial Board
You know that thing where you almost involuntarily lift your right foot off the gas pedal when you see a cop car ahead of you? This summer, you may want to develop the same muscle memory when approaching a highway work zone.
The law won’t take effect until next summer, but starting in July of 2024 expect to see speed cameras placed within state Department of Transporation work zones. As work begins in earnest on the $123 million I-5 and Highway 529 interchange project between Everett and Marysville, this summer will be your chance to get into practice and — as they signs already advise — give the work crews a brake.
The slower speeds for the work zone not only improve safety for the work crews; they’re necessary for drivers who have had to accustom themselves to shifting and narrower lanes marked in preparation for the work.
Your motivation for getting this down now: avoiding fines up to $500, double the typical penalty.
That, and saving lives.
The new law, signed by the governor in April, authorizes the Transportation Department to place speed cameras in work zones, allowing their activation when workers are present. The cameras will work as they do elsewhere for speed and red lights, such as school zones, parks and hospitals and where some cities have decided they’re necessary. Tickets will be mailed to vehicle owners — or the renter of a vehicle — within 30 days of the violation. The fine, which cannot by waived, reduced or suspended, must be paid within 30 days; unpaid tickets will be referred to the state Office of Administrative Hearings.
“Folks working on our state highways deserve to do so with the peace of mind that they will end their shift by going home to their families and loved ones,” said state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, who sponsored the legislation, in April. “These workers are acting every day to ensure our highways are safe for commuters, and we have a duty to keep them safe as well.”
The state Department of Transportation counted nearly 1,000 crashes in work zones in 2021, the latest data available, including 30 serious wrecks and five fatalities.
The speed cameras for work zones, which applies only to state Department of Transportation projects on state highways and interstates, was one of two bills adopted this legislative session out of a package of traffic safety bills meant to address a recent rise in wrecks, serious injuries and fatalities, including a more-than-20-year record of 745 roadway deaths in 2022, since declining to 436 in 2013.
Joining the work zone speed camera law this year was legislation that requires driver’s training for those between the ages of 18 and 24 to obtain a driver’s license, also sponsored by Liias, the Senate’s transportation chair. Two other bills did not advance this session; one prohibiting right turns on red lights at certain intersections, and another that would have lowered the legal blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers to 0.05 percent from the current 0.08 percent.
While we’re on the subject of road safety, a reminder about approaching emergency zones, such as a law enforcement, other emergency vehicle or a tow truck stopped on the side of the road with lights flashing: drivers in the lane adjacent to the emergency are required to move to the next lane unless changing lanes would be unsafe, or reduce their speed by 10 mph below the posted limit or to 50 mph where the limit is 60 mph or above. The fine for that violation, like the work zone fine, is up to $500.
That’s a significant fine, but one meant to impress upon drivers the importance of taking traffic safety seriously and saving lives, including their own.