In early September, my wife and daughter and I were at the wedding of a young man who is the son of a family we have been close to for decades. The event was a reunion of families who raised our children together. We shared third grade birthday parties, peewee football games, carpools, and worried about the transition from middle school to junior high together. To say the least, we know each other.
I feel nostalgic looking at how well the kids have all turned out. They are all either employed or still in college, everyone has a career path, and most importantly there is a lot of love in the converted barn where the reception is underway.
I have just returned from the taco buffet when a friend sends me an e mail saying, “Have you seen this? Sorry. But wanted you to be aware.” Attached is an article saying that a road worker on a job in Hot Springs had been hit by a car while working the day before. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette article said the driver kept going until running his car into a ditch seven miles away. Police charged the operator with driving under the influence.
The newspaper article says the driver left behind a worker lying in a pool of blood. He was airlifted to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.
As I scan the newspaper account of yet another incident involving a road worker, I look at the happy young people at the wedding, and I have this moment where I wonder what the parents in this room would think if their child had to work at a job site in the middle of the night with traffic passing just a few feet away? What if their child had to make a living in a world where a drunk driver leaves another human being lying in a pool of blood and races off into the dark Garland County night?
In recent years we have seen a woman drive off after hitting an ARDOT worker and go home and try to burn her SUV. The ARDOT worker died. We have also seen another ARDOT worker killed when an elderly man driving on an interstate alone in the middle of the night, drove into a job site and killed an ARDOT worker near Morrilton.
The latest injured worker in Hot Springs was employed by a sub-contractor working on a road job near the Hot Springs Airport. Luckily, in this case the worker was released from the hospital within 48 hours.
As the wedding band starts to play, I wonder if somehow society is more tolerant of accidents when they involve a road worker? Making the roads safer for ARDOT, county, and contractor employees will in fact take motorists “slowing down and putting the phone down.” But it will also mean the judicial system should rethink how charges are filed in these incidents.
It will also take all of us thinking differently for real change to happen. When you drive up to a work site, instead of just thinking about your own trip being ten minutes longer, think about how you would feel if it was your child working close to traffic at 4:00 a.m. when rain is falling.
If we all can find a way to put real safety measures ahead of personal convenience, we can make progress.
The next time you are at a wedding, or family gathering, or dance recital, or hunting with friends, think about how this issue would look to you if the people out on the roads were also the people you love. That was the thought that popped into my head as I carried a plate of tacos across the dance floor at the wedding.
While I was complaining to my wife about wearing a suit in the heat during the outside marriage ceremony, a family in Hot Springs was sitting beside a loved one in a hospital room.
We all need to slow down when approaching work zones, but we also need to work to guarantee that the force of the law and the judicial system is in full effect in road worker death cases in the same way it is in any other accident.