As the Dallas area emerges from a freezing winter and stormy spring, construction crews will work to build and maintain thousands of miles of roads and highways throughout the region.

But transport officials say the increase in the number of road crews also means a greater likelihood that drivers – especially those who are distracted – will cause accidents in these work areas.

“People often mistakenly think they can multi-task, when in reality it’s just your brain jumping from task to task,” said Sgt. Sara Warren of the Texas Department of Public Safety said this week. The Texas Department of Transportation dubbed it National Work Zone Awareness Week.

“The thing is, your brain can easily miss important details needed to drive in a construction zone, like seeing a warning sign or a flagman.”

According to data compiled by TxDOT from law enforcement, more than 30,000 workplace accidents have been reported since 2017 in the agency’s Dallas District, which includes Dallas, Collin, Denton, Ellis, Kaufman, Navarro and Rockwall. These accidents caused more than 13,000 injuries and 167 deaths.

Driving while distracted was blamed for more than 4,800 – or about 16% – of these crashes, making it “by far” the leading cause of crashes in work areas, followed by impaired driving and speeding tickets, TxDOT said.

Crashes related to distracted driving nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021, the agency said. All construction zones have signs warning drivers of the presence of work crews and warning of the potential for fines for violations such as speeding and texting, but these signs are not always a deterrent, said Warren.

“The problem is that there are those who ignore or tamper with these signs,” she said. Warren described an accident that happened about two weeks ago that involved the driver of a van truck who texted while driving south on Interstate 45.

The driver hit a guardrail before going over a barrier in the northbound lane, drove toward the far shoulder, then overcorrected and rolled, she said. A semi-trailer rammed the cab of the box truck, killing the driver and a passenger.

“Now think about that in a construction zone, and all the issues that can arise other than those vehicles,” Warren said.

Local examples of distracted driving deaths in recent years show the seemingly random nature and devastation of the problem.

In 2018, a man talking on the phone while speeding through a work zone slammed into a blocked line of traffic on Dallas North Tollway, killing 16-year-old Guy Delaney. The driver, Terrelwin Jones, left the scene of the accident. He was sentenced last year to 10 years probation.

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Local police officers who oversee or work in their department’s traffic or accident control divisions said they believe several different measures could reduce distracted driving accidents.

Arlington Police Sgt. John Brown said 834 distracted driving crashes were reported in the city last year, although none resulted in fatalities. He said the department is deploying officers to some of the busiest work areas, including those on Interstate 30 and State Highway 360.

“I definitely think more warning signs would help,” Brown said. He also encouraged drivers to use hands-free devices to take a call instead of talking on the phone, although he acknowledged this was not a perfect solution.

“I’m not saying it’s 100% accident-free, because even with hands-free, sometimes you have to answer or disconnect the phone,” Brown said. “You always take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.”

Mesquite Police Sgt. Kevin Rough said the constant road construction and traffic in Mesquite actually helps drivers to be more attentive.

“We have such a large build area that some people are kind of used to it by now,” Rough said. “It’s quite common for them to change the traffic pattern, and the traffic volume itself will naturally reduce speed.”

Texas law prohibits drivers to send or receive text messages or e-mails while driving a moving car. Some cities have stricter laws regarding phone use while driving.

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