Opinion | People are dying. Fix the damn road safety laws in Michigan.

There are a few things every working man and woman want from their work, regardless of what their job is: to work with dignity, to be paid fairly, and to return home safely at the end of the day.  These should not be privileges. They are rights. 
But for the hard-working people who are rebuilding the roads and bridges in the state of Michigan, that last right – to return home safely at the end of the day – has been more and more in doubt.  In the last few weeks, we have seen five separate instances of road workers across our state injured and even killed in accidents with motorists.  Lives have been impacted. Families have been destroyed.  These accidents are tragic.  But even worse is the knowledge that these accidents were completely avoidable.

Douglas W. Stockwell is business manager and general vice-presidents of Operating Engineers Local 324 labor union.

For years, the state of Michigan has been slower than our surrounding neighbors to increase the safety laws around road work zones.  We have watched as states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have increased the amount of protection required for workers who are rebuilding the roads, often inches from cars and trucks moving at dangerous speeds. 

We also know that distracted driving has  increased only as our society has gotten faster, our phones smarter and our roads busier.  We know that a glance at a text or a Facebook post can mean the difference between life and death for not only a driver, but construction workers filling potholes, paving lanes or surveying work.  Our laws have not kept up with our changing times. We need to protect these workers.

There are many things that can be done.  As our members include thousands of road workers, we have begun working with a bipartisan number of legislators to enact what we hope will become the Road Workers Safety Act. This package of bills would do several things to increase the safety of Michigan’s road workers. It would increase the penalties for those motorists who disregard the reduced speed zones of worksites and increase the penalties for distracted driving through a work zone. It would also post increased safety areas at the front and back end of these work zones. 

Fixing our roads is important to Michigan residents, and for good reason.  They are the roads that we use to take our families to school, to work, to visit relatives or do the grocery shopping.  Better roads mean safer families.  But we need to remember that the people working to make the roads safe have families too and deserve to work with as much safety as possible.  We need legislative partners to step up and protect them, and drivers to be reminded that they have a responsibility to share the roads.  Lives are counting on it.

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