JACKSON — As Michigan motorists hit the road this Memorial Day Weekend with the unofficial start to summer, Consumers Energy is reminding drivers to slow down in utility work zones.
The June 22, 2012 death of Consumers Energy journeyman line worker Jeff Creel is a tragic reminder of the dangers faced every day by the men and women who work in and near Michigan’s roadways. According to authorities, Creel was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by a man as Creel was responding to a report of a downed power line near Jonesville.
The driver was charged with a moving violation causing death in a work zone – a felony carrying a maximum of 15 years in prison and fines up to $7,500.
Family, friends and colleagues of Creel have worked tirelessly to honor his memory by increasing the public’s focus on work zone safety. Late last year, at the urging of individuals and employee groups, including Consumers Energy’s Hastings Service Center Grass Roots Safety Team, the Michigan House of Representatives passed Resolution 330, recognizing Dec. 6 as Utility Worker Safety Awareness Day.
The goal of the resolution is to better educate the public about the need to slow down and go around utility workers who are working in or alongside the road, often with large and loud equipment.
“We want every one of our employees to return safely home to their families at the end of the day, but we need the public’s help when it comes to work zone safety,” said Michele Kirkland, vice president of energy operations for the utility. “Drivers need to slow down as they go around utility workers and other personnel working in and along roadways. They’re doing this work to serve us. This is their work area and it needs to be kept safe.”
In the past year, Consumers Energy has spent approximately $5 million to outfit its field vehicles with special warning lights to draw even more attention to passing motorists. In addition, Consumers Energy places cones and flags in work areas and employees wear reflective vests.
“Work zone safety is a two-way street involving both our employees and the traveling public,” Kirkland said. “We need the public’s help to observe the traffic signs and warning lights we use and to slow down and go around. No one wants to repeat last June’s tragedy.”
State laws changed in 2006 to double fees and criminal penalties for injuring or killing a worker in a work zone apply to all workers, not just law enforcement and road construction crews, Kirkland said.
According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, last year there were 4,530 crashes, 1,149 injuries and 15 fatalities in Michigan work zones. While this is a reduction from the 2011 totals of 4,633 crashes, 1,312 injuries and 18 fatalities, more needs to be done, said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle.
“Crashes were down across the board for 2012 but too many people are still at risk of serious injury and death,” Steudle said. “The majority of the responsibility to create a safe environment is on the driver more than anyone. Eliminating distractions save lives and will help us get closer to Michigan’s goal of zero deaths.”
Consumers Energy, the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS), provides natural gas and electricity to 6.8 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.
For more information regarding Consumers Energy, go to: www.ConsumersEnergy.com.