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MARION — With a busy road construction season ahead, state police and transportation officials kicked off National Work Zone Awareness Week Monday by reminding drivers to be alert and take it slow in work zones.

The safety campaign aims to reduce the number and severity of crashes on Illinois highways, especially in work zones, Keith Roberts of the Illinois Department of Transportation said at a news conference in Marion.

“While motorists should be aware of the potential for work zones throughout the year, April is traditionally the kick off of our construction season,” he said.

Last year, there were 4,800 crashes in the state’s work zones; 1,100 injuries and 28 fatalities — one an IDOT worker, he said.

“And we consider that unacceptable as we strive to make sure that everyone arrives at their destination safely,” Roberts said.

The two leading causes of crashes in work zones are speeding and driver distraction, state trooper Joey Watson said.

“We are reminding all motorists to be vigilant when driving through a construction zone,” Watson said. “The majority of work zone crashes occur as a result of drivers not paying attention to the roadway. These distractions come in many forms from cellphones to the changing of radio stations to other occupants of the vehicle.”

He also encouraged drivers to heed the posted speed limits in work zones and to obey the “Move Over Law” that requires drivers to slow down and move over a lane if possible when approaching a stopped police or emergency vehicle with flashing lights.

Work zone traffic control methods have improved, Roberts said, giving drivers advance warning of road construction and traffic delays or stops.

Clint Taylor of the Southern and Central Illinois Laborers’ District Council also asked drivers to pay close attention during construction season.

“Over the years, I have seen our members not only out there in close calls, but deaths on the job,” he said. “We all know everybody’s in a hurry to get home but our folks who are out there working want to get home to their families safely, too. I hope everybody thinks about that when they’re driving on the road. Please take your time and pay attention.”

Enforcement efforts will be stepped up during the construction season with increased police patrols and five photo enforcement vans utilized throughout the state.

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On Twitter: @beckymalkovich

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