A Dangerous Work Zone


In the early morning, a construction crew is reopening a freeway lane. They're using a pickup truck fitted with a Barrel Mover 5000– a sort of plow fitted to the front bumper that repositions the big orange safety barrels. The pickup is in the center lane, driving about 15 mph. Then a delivery truck, its driver dozing off, rear ends the pickup at high speed. The driver of the pickup is killed; the passenger is seriously injured. The delivery truck driver has minor injuries and flees the scene.

We created a set of slides to show how the crash occurred:

Here's the same scene, viewed from a different angle:

We also worked with an expert witness to depict how the pickup's occupants were thrown backward at the moment of impact.

The delivery truck driver's employer admitted liability and settled with the injured highway worker.

There's another part to the story, however.

The construction crew did not follow proper safety procedures for the barrel moving operation. They only had a single Truck-Mounted Attenuator (TMA) vehicle on site... and that truck was still in the process of maneuvering into position at the time of the crash, leaving the pickup truck unprotected from approaching traffic. (TMAs have a large hydraulic cushion mounted on the rear of the truck, designed to absorb impact force)

What Should Have Happened:

We reviewed the approved permit drawing from the contractor, looked up best practices from ODOT and other agencies, and consulted with an expert witness to explore several safer methods for operating the barrel mover and crash trucks. Here are our models of those vehicles:

In one scenario, three crash trucks completely close the freeway in a "rolling slowdown" while the barrel mover works.

In another scenario, a single crash truck drives in reverse, giving the barrel mover protection as they move against traffic:


Joel Newman is a Senior Designer at Fat Pencil Studio