It's great to talk about 'workzone safety' and awareness as we all drive through construction areas but the reality is that heightened awareness is something we need 52 weeks each year.

In Ohio the problem recently gained greater attention for all the wrong reasons. On April 15th ODOT director Jerry Wray said that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of deaths in construction zones because of vehicle crashes doubled from eight in 2009 to 16 in 2011 in Ohio. Those numbers are the most recent available and include both motorists and construction workers.

But just a week later he announced the death of 27-year-old Lee M. Rizor, a five year ODOT employee killed on the job April 22.

“Our hearts are heavy at ODOT today as we lost an employee in a very tragic accident. Lee M. Rizor was a dedicated highway worker with more than five years of service to the department. He left home this morning with the expectation that he would return to his family at the end of the work day unharmed. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rizor family during this very difficult time,” Wray said.

Mr. Rizor began working for ODOT on January 22, 2008. He worked as a highway technician. At the time of the accident he was operating a backhoe and clearing debris from behind a guardrail along Interstate 71 in Delaware County when the backhoe he was in was struck by a tractor trailer.

What can be done? Most importantly it's essential to understand what occurs and why. NHTSA says the top causes of work zone crashes are speed, following too closely, failure to control and improper lane changes.

To address that head-on ODOT is piloting a new safety weapon, known as variable speed limit trailers. The portable devices come with technology that can be programmed to display a safer, slower speed, but only on the stretches of roadway where construction workers are present.

Around the state, there are 10 construction projects this year that will pilot the use of variable speed limit signs:

•Franklin County – Resurfacing and pavement repair on Interstate 71
•Henry County – Resurfacing a four-lane highway on U.S. Routes 6/24
•Portage County – Spot pavement repairs on Interstate 76
•Fairfield/Licking Counties – Bridge maintenance and repairs at various locations on Interstate 70
•Madison County – Pavement repairs at various locations on Interstate 70
•Montgomery County – Pavement repairs at various locations on U.S. Route 35 west of Interstate 75
•Shelby County – Pavement repairs at various locations on Interstate 75
•Ross/Pike Counties – Resurfacing of U.S. Route 23
•Two projects in Athens County – Resurfacing of U.S. Routes 33 and 32/50

An ODOT analysis revealed that 56,945 vehicle crashes occurred in Ohio work zones from 2003 to 2012. Of those crashes, 20,590 happened when construction workers were present. In fact, a person is more likely to be injured or killed in a work zone on a dry and sunny August afternoon than any other time of year.

“ODOT tries to do all we can to ensure families and construction workers are safe on Ohio’s highways,” Wray said. “Motorists can do their part too, by slowing down, driving the posted speed limit, staying alert, and avoiding distractions – especially cell phone distractions.”