• Work Zone Safety: Simple Steps to Save Lives

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    In road work zone at night, traffic drums, pavement markings and “one lane road ahead” signs are illuminated

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    Globally, there are over 1 billion cars on the road today. By some estimates, that number is set to double by 2040.¹ As the number of vehicles sharing the roads and the miles traveled increase, the need for global investment in roadway infrastructure also increases. According to some estimates, $900 billion needs to be invested annually in road infrastructure to keep up with increasing traffic.²

    Roadway infrastructure projects mean more work zones. This can increase risk and exposure for workers, drivers and pedestrians. In fact, it’s estimated that the crash rate increases by nearly 25% in work zone conditions.³ Every year in the United States, there are more than 80,000 work zone accidents causing injuries to more than 40,000 motorists, workers and pedestrians.⁴

    With Work Zone Safety Week approaching, it’s a good time to take a closer look at simple, effective ways we can increase work zone safety for everyone sharing the road.


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    Ways to build safer work zones

    Work zones can be particularly dangerous because they present drivers and pedestrians with changing, unfamiliar and unexpected conditions — including sudden speed and lane changes, new routes, unfamiliar signage and increased distractions. To help mitigate these factors, conspicuous and easy-to-follow temporary traffic control (TTC) devices are used to provide work zone traffic control for drivers and pedestrians — making them a key part of a safe work zone. Two important TTCs in work zones are pavement markings and traffic signs.

    • Man wearing hard hat and carrying lunch box smiles and hugs young boy, with open house door in the background

      Highly visible temporary traffic control signs

      • TTC signs carry messages that help alert drivers and pedestrians to upcoming road conditions, traffic laws, route changes and more. Because they play such a significant role in helping people navigate work zones, it’s important that they are highly visible in a range of conditions — including low-light and rainy conditions. There are a couple of technologies that can help increase the visibility of your work zone signs.
      • Fluorescence: Fluorescent sign sheeting transforms invisible ultraviolet rays into reflected visible light. Because fluorescent sheeting re-radiates UV wavelengths as visible wavelengths, the sum of the reflected light is greater than that of ordinary sheeting. During the day, this means brighter traffic materials that appear to glow, particularly at dawn and dusk, or with overcast skies. As a result, drivers can recognize fluorescent signs at greater distances and with more accurate perception of color than non-fluorescent signs.⁵
      • Retroreflectivity: Over the years, sign sheeting technology has evolved to be more reflective in a wider range of conditions — from lower-performing ASTM Type I sheeting composed of enclosed-lens glass-bead material to the latest ASTM Type XI technology. Sign sheeting that meets the ASTM Type XI standard uses 100% efficient full-cube prismatic technology to reflect almost 60% of available light back to motorists — nearly double what the next highest class of sheeting reflects. It’s also designed to better reflect the headlights of newer vehicles, provide more luminescence for older drivers and help truck drivers see road signs at greater distances.

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    • Vehicle headlights illuminate a rainy road in the dark, with visible pavement markings and an orange road sign ahead

      Wet retroreflective pavement markings

      • Pavement markings help drivers see and stay in their lanes. This is particularly important in work zones, where lanes are often narrower and can shift unexpectedly. As with traffic signs, the most important characteristic of an effective pavement marking is visibility — particularly in low-light conditions and when it’s raining. To understand why this is so critical, it might be helpful to know a little bit more about how pavement markings work and how water affects them.
      • In general, pavement markings are embedded with retroreflective glass beads (optics) that are designed to reflect a vehicle’s headlights back to the driver. The most common types of pavement markings use retroreflective optics with a refractive index (RI) of 1.5 — designed for light, daytime conditions. When it’s raining, the optics become surrounded by water instead of air. Water has a higher RI than air, causing the light from the headlight to spread out in a much broader, weaker cone. As a result, very little light is reflected back toward the vehicle. This significantly reduces the visibility of the pavement marking.
      • In the last decade, pavement markings have been developed using retroreflective optics with an ultra-high RI of 2.4. The higher RI optics counteract the effect of water by creating a narrower cone of reflected light and reflecting more light back to the driver’s eyes — making the pavement markings visible in wet conditions where other pavement markings would be difficult to see.
      • These higher-RI pavement markings are also optimized for the machine vision systems in vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — including lane departure warning (LDW) and lane keep assist (LKA). This becomes increasingly important as more and more ADAS-equipped vehicles are sold.

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    Working toward zero deaths

    Around the world, nearly 1.25 million people die in traffic accidents every year — about 3,287 people a day — and another 20 to 50 million are injured or disabled.⁶ At 3M, we think that’s unacceptable.

    • Utility truck with traffic cones is parked in road work zone with highly visible traffic drums and flagger-ahead sign

      “3M is committed to improving safety for everyone on our roads — motorists, pedestrians and workers. That’s why we invest so much of our time, energy and resources into developing new road safety solutions. And that’s why we signed the Toward Zero Deaths pledge.”

      — Dan Chen, Ph.D., P.E., Vice President, 3M Traffic Safety Division

      Toward Zero Deaths is an effort to put an end to fatal traffic accidents by providing road safety guidance and calling for key stakeholders to work together to build safer roads. 3M is proud to contribute to the initiative, both by signing the Toward Zero Deaths pledge and using our 80+ years of experience developing traffic infrastructure to engineer the highest visibility, most durable, most retroreflective traffic safety products on the market.


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    • Learn more

      We are committed to helping you design safer work zones through the use of highly visible sheeting for devices and removable pavement markings for roadways.

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