Wilson: Paving the road to safer Louisiana highways

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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Louisiana’s definition of a distracted or inattentive driver is one who is actively engaged in any activity that diverts his/her attention away from the task of driving.

The work of public agencies, stakeholder groups and victim-related organizations have done a tremendous job of providing awareness concerning the leading causes of distracted driving and its impacts. As secretary, I am convinced that there is more to be done to raise awareness concerning the often dangerous and life-risking jobs of the men and women of DOTD.

At DOTD, safety is our top priority. We continue to act to raise awareness of this issue. Each year, we participate in national and local safety initiatives working closely with our partners, such as Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, to remind motorists to avoid driving distracted or impaired. While we have improved our safety measures in work zones, we are appealing to citizens we serve to be an engaged partner and do their part.

On Feb. 3, dedicated DOTD employee Dwayne Pitre was performing his duties by picking up litter when he was struck by a vehicle in a work zone. He was seriously injured when a distracted driver swerved to avoid slowing traffic on I-49, hitting Dwayne instead. This public servant now faces an extensive recovery process that is sure to place an undue financial and physical burden that he certainly didn’t expect when he left for work on Monday morning.

Adhering to protocol, Dwayne was equipped with his safety vest, the emergency lights on his vehicle were activated and he and his co-worker were a safe distance away from traffic. Thankfully, Dwayne is still with us, but for the DOTD family these accidents have seemed to end much grimmer recently.

Since my appointment, I have had the unfortunate, but significant, responsibility to call and console the families of Mr. Johnny Cole and Mr. Paul Featherston after both of these men were killed in the line of duty. Both of these dedicated employees were along our highways installing signs and repairing pot holes, respectively, when they were unexpectedly killed by distracted drivers. These two deaths help account for the 46 employees who have lost their lives in the line of duty since 1976, DOTD’s inception.

In an effort to combat these terrible incidents, DOTD recently introduced several safety enhancements, which include additional personnel on work crews to monitor traffic, the extension of work zones and the addition of impact-absorbing trailers that provide warning lights and flashing arrows. Additionally, we are changing our safety color patterns to include a vivid green. This green will be displayed with yellow on our uniforms and be added to our emergency light regime.

While the loss of our employees and nature of their jobs warrant these changes, as aforementioned, we can’t fight distracted driving alone. We need you! Join us in establishing policy solutions to keep Louisianans safe. It is incumbent upon each of us to protect one another. Avoidable deaths are sobering reminders that these men and women are our family, friends and neighbors. We need your support to not only work to eradicate distracted driving and its impacts, but to ensure that our workers stay safe and are afforded every protection and benefit that is equal to the sacrifice and risk they take daily!

Dr. Shawn D. Wilson is secretary of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. The office can be reached at 225-379-1232.