National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW) is an event that takes place across the United States, with partnerships between state departments of transportation (DOT), national road safety organizations, government agencies, private companies, and individuals.

How did this work zone safety awareness campaign get started?

In 1997, a group of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) staff members, located in southwestern Virginia, wanted to dedicate a week to raise awareness about work zone safety among all district employees before construction projects picked up during the warmer months. Following the successful promotion of this first event, VDOT brought the idea of raising awareness to other DOTs, and in 1999 the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began its statewide public awareness campaign, “Slow for the Cone Zone.”

However, it was 1998 when VDOT first presented the idea to create a national campaign to ATSSA officials. In December of 1999, ATSSA approached the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to launch the first official NWZAW. They developed an agreement between the organizations, that outlined goals for NWZAW efforts:

  • Initiate efforts to raise awareness of the need for more caution when driving through work zones to decrease fatalities and injuries;
  • Establish and promote a uniform set of safety tips;
  • The value of training and importance of best practices in regard to work zone safety would be promoted among individuals in the private sector, industry, and roadway workers;
  • Reach out to both roadway workers and contractors to communicate possible effects of motorists’ behavior in response to traffic delays, and advise on what steps might possibly be taken to lessen negative behavior; and
  • Outreach efforts would be made to work with entities involved with work zone safety and to form partnerships.

The first official NWZAW kick-off event was held in 2000 in Springfield, Virginia. The site where the kick-off event is held now alternates each year from being hosted in the Washington, D.C., area to different locations across the United States. State transportation departments can submit applications to host the event on those alternate years.

This year’s event

In 2020, NWZAW is April 20-24 and is celebrating 20 years! This year’s theme is “Safe Work Zones for All: Protect workers. Protect road users.” It features a poster reminiscent of the World War II poster with Rosie the Riveter. In her place are a male and female roadway worker proclaiming, “We Can Do It!”, which is the original language used in the WWII poster. Michigan chose that image as a reflection of its industrial heritage. Original “Rosies” worked as riveters in an aircraft factory in Ypsilanti, Michigan that built B24 bombers, which is now the site of the American Center for Mobility (ACM).

This year’s NWZAW kickoff is hosted by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and will be held in Ypsilanti on April 21 at the ACM. Go Orange Day is on Wednesday, April 22 and all are encouraged to wear orange and post photos to help promote safe work zones.


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