Opinion: A drastic, but reasonable, step to keep road crews safe | Opinion

Guys like Josh Swanson and Billy R. Wallace Jr. have seen it way too many times — drivers going too fast, driving erratically or not paying attention blowing through construction zones.

“It happens every minute of every day,” said Swanson, the political and communications representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302. That’s the union for the people who run heavy equipment in work zones all over Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Wallace is the political and legislative director of the District Council of Laborers, representing Washington and North Idaho.

In Washington, speeding, careless, distracted or impaired drivers cause an average of 626 injuries in work zones each year. In 2021, five workers died in Washington work zone crashes.

With no end to the carnage in sight, Swanson and Wallace have seen enough.

So has state Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. King, who’s the ranking member of the Senate’s Transportation Committee.

“We have to do something drastic in order to save lives,” King said in a Monday interview with the YH-R Editorial Board.

King’s not kidding around. He’s planning to introduce a bill next legislative session to allow automated ticketing for drivers who violate work zone traffic laws. The Washington State Department of Transportation is drafting language now, he said.

The way King, Swanson and Wallace see it, workers, police and others have been pleading for caution for years, but too many motorists just aren’t listening.

Now, with a statewide shortage of traffic patrols, it’s even tougher to keep up with irresponsible drivers and prevent needless work zone tragedies.

“We gotta take care of it now,” Wallace said.

That’s why talk has turned to automated ticketing — setting up electronic sensors at work sites that could automatically detect and record vehicles speeding, straying over lines or following other cars too closely.

Technology would catch violators in the act, and tickets could be issued by mail.

And speaking of tickets, Wallace and Swanson would like to see much steeper fines for work zone infractions, which are currently double whatever penalty a motorist would pay for violations in non-work zones. Lawmakers will likely debate specific amounts next session.

King’s been in office for 15 years, so he’s been through a few sessions. He knows automated ticketing is apt to raise some eyebrows and more than a few objections.

But considering the lives that are at stake, it’s worth it, he figures.

“You gotta slow down,” he said. “You gotta pay attention.”

We agree.

We suspect the plan will be seen by some as government overreach. An alarming intrusion on personal privacy. Another example of Big Brother watching us all.

Those aren’t concerns that should be taken lightly. Technology has increasingly unsettling capabilities to invade our lives, and whenever it’s introduced as a tool to enforce or monitor people’s behavior, we should be raising red flags — lots of them.

In this case, however, we’re balancing the safety of workers with nowhere to hide when they’re in the direct path of a speeding vehicle against the privacy of that vehicle’s driver — a driver who’s already demonstrated a certain lack of concern for traffic laws.

That seems like a pretty straightforward call to us.

Yakima Herald-Republic editorials reflect the collective opinion of the newspaper’s local editorial board.

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