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New work zone fine takes effect Friday

A vehicle drives near the construction zone Monday on U.S. Highway 12 in Willmar. A new law takes effect Friday that will stiffen the fine for anyone speeding through a work zone such as this one in east Willmar or ignoring the instructions of road crews directing traffic. The change in the law aims to improve safety for roadside workers. (Tribune photo by Kyle Rozendaal)

By Kyle Rozendaal

WILLMAR — Motorists caught speeding through a work zone will face a $300 fine beginning Friday due to a new law passed during the 2014 state legislative session that aims to protect roadside workers in construction zones.

“Roadside workers need to be safe,” said Rep. Mary Sawatzky during a news conference on Monday. “In our hurry to be home and with our families at the end of the day, it’s possible to permanently prevent others from ever going home.”

The $300 fine can be issued to anyone caught speeding or ignoring instructions issued by road crew flaggers in construction areas. The new fine replaces the old law that doubled the fine for a traffic violation inside a work zone, according to Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog.

“Many work zones are in place across the state, and many workers are in those work zones improving our state’s transportation system,” said Charlie Zelle, Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner in a news release. “This law is important because it provides added protection in areas that can be vulnerable to careless drivers.”

Officials said they spotted numerous careless drivers near the U.S. Highway 12 construction project on Monday after the news conference. More than half the drivers were hardly slowing down and had eyes on their cell phones rather than on the road.

“There have only been two accidents in the local district this summer,” said MnDOT Project Engineer Paul Rasmussen. “Both accidents were caused by drivers distracted by cell phones and their failure to slow down in a work zone.”

To bring additional attention to work zone safety, the Toward Zero Deaths initiative launched a statewide “Orange Cones, No Phones” safety campaign earlier this summer.

Toward Zero Deaths is a multi-agency partnership to promote safe and smart driving behavior.