As a motorcycle rider, you’re well aware that riding season often corresponds with peak road construction work. Unfortunately, riding through construction zones introduces a range of safety risks. Learning to safely navigate road construction takes experience, knowledge, and situational awareness. We’re here to help. Here are some safety tips you can implement as you navigate road construction zones.
Types of road construction
Road construction zones can vary from small work areas to massive interstate refurbishment projects. Recognize the hazards of each type, and plan accordingly.
Road construction on multi-lane roads
As you approach large highway construction zones, you’ll have plenty of warning for closed lanes ahead. Pick your spot in the flow of traffic as you merge so you can see ahead of the vehicle in front of you. As you enter the work zone, slow down and increase your following distance. Watch for workers, trucks, and displaced cones as you ride.
Road construction on rural roads
On roads with single lanes in each direction, traffic needs to pass through the work area in an alternating fashion—which makes distracted drivers particularly dangerous. Watch your mirrors and identify an escape route to help avoid being rear-ended.
Mowers and workers can enter the road suddenly in these areas. Slow down and increase following distances so you can spot and avoid road debris. Use caution when passing mowers—watch for oncoming traffic and the movements of the mower. Expect road debris for several miles in either direction of the mowing operation.
Scan for uneven lanes and roadside hazards while keeping track of the traffic around you. Watch for construction vehicles, as repaving often involves several trucks entering and exiting the work area.
Construction zone sections
Large-scale highway construction projects have well-defined traffic control structures, and are divided into several distinct, functional sections.
The advance warning area
In this area, you’re alerted that construction is ahead. Observe the traffic around you so you can choose where to merge.
The transition area
This is the zone where you need to merge. Reduce your speed and watch your mirrors for drivers trying to cut to the front of the line. Also, start looking for escape routes—if traffic stops suddenly, you don’t want to be rear-ended.
The buffer area
This area before the actual construction work offers protection for workers and is often used as a staging area for equipment and materials. Maintain your front-and-rear space cushion while watching for trucks entering or leaving the staging area, and stay alert for slowing or stopping traffic ahead of you.
The activity area
This is the actual work area. Watch for workers, equipment, and surface hazards. Keep a keen eye on traffic flow ahead and watch your mirrors—things can change rapidly in this zone, and drivers can get distracted or become startled by the construction work.
The termination area
This area marks the end of the work zone and the resumption of normal traffic lanes. Drivers can be unpredictable as they leave the work zone. Just like race drivers after a yellow flag turns green, they may jockey for the lead to make up for lost time. You can also encounter vehicles on the shoulder, the result of overheating in slow traffic or damage sustained in the construction zone.
While road construction ultimately provides us with smooth pavement for riding, the construction process itself temporarily creates rough, hazard-strewn roadways. Here are some of the common surface hazards you can expect to encounter.
Loose gravel and debris
Fresh gravel meant for a construction site can find its way onto the road, along with debris from old road surfaces and concrete. When you see debris on the road, don’t focus on the debris—focus on the clear pathway through it. The tires on cars and trucks ahead of you will throw the debris aside; this usually creates two clear paths for you. Just increase your following distance so you aren’t struck by flying debris.
Riding on grooved pavement can make you feel as though the motorcycle wants to wander all over the place. Don’t try to fight it—instead, maintain a moderate hold and use gentle control. Watch the surface ahead, as you can expect to encounter debris, broken pavement, and potholes.
New pavement is typically applied one lane at a time. This can present you with a freshly paved lane several inches above the adjacent grooved lane, creating sharp drop-offs and edge traps for your tires. Approach these uneven height transitions at the highest angle possible.
Raised sewer covers and storm drains
When old pavement is removed, covers and drains can sit several inches higher than the road surface. Because multi-wheeled vehicles aren’t as affected by these hazards, they may not swerve to avoid them. Increase your following distance, actively scan for covers and drains, and look for pathways around them.
Standing water can hide a range of hazards, from deep potholes to pieces of rebar. Increase your following distance so you can spot and avoid pooled water. Falling rain, meanwhile, can form a line of standing water, causing you to hydroplane. If possible, find alternate routes to avoid riding through construction zones in rain.
New paint and highway markings
Try to avoid riding across new, large road markings—especially during and following rain—because they’re often slippery. Stopping or braking over them could lock up your tires. Additionally, some high-visibility lane-marking paints include reflective glass balls that can be spilled during the painting process. Be aware that riding over these tiny glass balls can be like riding on ice—take caution.
Staying safe near other drivers
Road construction zones can cause some drivers and riders to become impatient, frustrated, confused, or distracted. While you can’t control how other drivers respond to road work and delays, you can reduce your risk.
Lane reductions and merging zones
Merging lanes can be confusing to some drivers and bring out the worst behavior in others as the rate of travel rapidly reduces to a crawl. Actively choose your position in the flow of traffic so you can see several vehicles in front of you, and try your best to avoid seemingly distracted drivers.
Managing distracted drivers
From phones to passengers, drivers face plenty of distractions before they even enter construction zones. As you approach work zones, watch for the telltale signs—erratic speed, weaving, and drivers with eyes anywhere but the road. If you can, merge between two attentive drivers, stay visible, and frequently scan your rearview mirrors as you exit the construction zone.
Safe following distances
While riding in congested traffic through a construction zone, it can be challenging to maintain the standard two-second following distance. Do what you can, and keep an eye out for escape options in case of sudden stops.
As you try to maintain a safe following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you, you may find that the driver behind you is now tailgating you. Try using your four-way flashers to remind the driver to give you a little space. If that doesn’t work, or if the driver is making gestures or acting aggressively, try to change lanes and let them pass.
Scanning your surroundings for potential escape routes can help you avoid hitting the vehicle in front of you—or being rear-ended—in the event of a sudden stop. If your options are limited and you’re concerned by the drivers around you, consider exiting the road at the next opportunity and looking for an alternate route. It’s inconvenient, but it’s better than being in an accident.
No one enjoys riding through construction zones. But with experience and situational awareness, you can reduce your accident risks in these areas. Develop your skills, seek out knowledge, always ride sober, and watch the drivers around you.
Till next time, ride safe!
To help prepare yourself for other hazards you can encounter on your next motorcycle ride, check out these additional safety tips.
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