Speeding in a Construction Zone

January 24, 2006 at 6:56pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in 625 Elm Street

Some folks are excited about LB 1120 (PDF), Senator Adrian Smith’s (Gering) proposal to make the absence of construction workers or machinery an affirmative defense to prevent the doubling of fines in a construction zone. I think LB 1120 is bad law.

The relevant text:

It shall be an affirmative defense to a charge of a violation of this subsection that no road construction workers or machinery were present within such portion of a highway.

Most people seem to think that the bill negates the doubling of fines if construction workers are not present. That’s only half true. The bill also says that no construction machinery may be present. I see two problems. First, construction machinery is rarely not present in a major construction zone, even when construction workers are nowhere to be seen. Second, the bill does not define “construction machinery”. What is a construction-related machine, for the purposes of this law? Must the machinery be visible to motorists?

LB 1120 encourages reckless driving through construction zones that will put construction workers at risk. The bill does not provide a mechanism by which drivers can know whether or not construction workers are present, nor does it require construction workers to make their presence known. If this bill becomes law, some drivers—those who like to speed—will assume on weekends, holidays, and over night that no construction workers are around. That may or may not be true.

The bill also puts some drivers at risk, if only indirectly, and if only those drivers who choose to break the law. Drivers who choose to speed do so for a variety of reasons. Currently, most speeders choose not to speed in construction zones for fear of receiving a doubled fine. This bill removes that fear, and thus a portion of the incentive not to speed in construction zones at certain times. However not all construction zones are created equal. LB 1120 seems to assume that lowered speed limits in construction zones exist primarily—or even exclusively—for the protection of construction workers. That is not true. The speed restrictions also exist, in many cases, for the safety of the drivers. For that subset of the population that chooses to travel at illegal (and often dangerous) speeds, the bill removes one of the measures in place to help protect them and other drivers from their carelessness.

The bill’s purpose is sound, but its execution is poor. What the bill really ought to describe is: 1) a mechanism in the law that allows construction zone speed limits to be variable depending on a number of factors (e.g. construction worker safety and driver safety); and 2) a system of guidelines instructing the Department of Roads to create rules describing how the current speed limit in a particular construction zone or portion thereof be communicated clearly and accurately to drivers.

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