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State launches campaign to bolster safety for highway workers

Director of Highway Safety Jeff Larason said the enhanced program will combine public education against drunken driving and intensified presence at work sites.
Director of Highway Safety Jeff Larason said the enhanced program will combine public education against drunken driving and intensified presence at work sites.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

WESTON — State officials launched a two-pronged campaign Tuesday to protect workers in roadway repair zones, amid an alarming string of crashes in recent weeks involving suspected drunk drivers.

The effort combines public education against drunken driving with increased law enforcement at the work sites, both on highways and city streets.

“People in work zones are especially vulnerable” to drunk drivers, said Jeff Larason, director for the highway safety division in the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Larason and other officials detailed the program during a news conference at State Police barracks in Weston.

“The [traffic] cones don’t stop the drunk driver. We need to stop them,” he said.

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Larason said federal money will be used to step up law enforcement patrols in about 150 cities and towns across Massachusetts and to launch the public education campaign against driving drunk.

The Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign will start Friday and operate until Labor Day on Sept. 5, and it is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, officials said. Though the campaign is not new, it is the first time agencies are being urged to focus on increasing patrols in work zones, Larason said.

“Despite numerous cautions — including orange cones, signage, lighting, and police details — people in work zones are vulnerable to drivers who are impaired, inattentive, or speeding,” a statement by the office of public safety said.

About $1.6 million was distributed to the state and some local police agencies through a separate grant for increased patrols on work sites during the summer, Larason said. The agencies must use those federal funds by Oct. 1, he said.

Last month, State Police increased patrols near highway work zones, leading to the issuance of 2,500 traffic citations, most of them for speeding, State Police Colonel Richard D. McKeon said. He noted the heightened attention led to the arrest of six suspected drunk drivers, he said.

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“What’s happened recently is unacceptable,’’ McKeon said.

The most recent string of crashes involving alleged drunk drivers began on June 27, when a vehicle struck a construction worker in the Ted Williams Tunnel; the worker was in the hospital for several days.

The next day, an employee of a private contractor working for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation was killed by an alleged drunk driver while picking up traffic cones on Interstate 93 in Medford.

Two more people charged with drunken driving crashed into highway work sites through early July; a Revere policeman suffered minor injuries in one of those collisions. The public safety office counted five total work zone crashes this summer.

There were 22 fatal crashes in state work zones between 2011 and 2014, according to the office.

“Let me be clear — the driving public needs to do their part,” Thomas J. Tinlin, highway administrator for the transportation department, said Tuesday. “Let us send our people home safely.”

Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said the long-term goal is to ensure that troopers, who often provide security for highways crews, and the workers themselves do not have to risk their lives while doing their jobs.

“It makes me concerned about these state troopers and these local police officers and these people that work in these local construction sites,” Bennett said. “We have to make sure we take care of these individuals ... the way we take care of our loved ones.”

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Miguel Otárola can be reached at miguel.otarola@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @motarola123.