By Dr. Shawn Wilson
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.
On Monday, Feb. 3, Dwayne Pitre, a dedicated DOTD employee performing his duties by picking up litter, 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.