AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week kicks off the National Work Zone Awareness Week as the Texas Department of Transportation officials report there has been a spike in deaths in work zones.

The majority of those killed were either vehicle drivers or passengers, making up 195 of the 244 deaths. A further 38 pedestrians were killed, along with four bicyclists. Three construction workers were killed in 2021.

According to TxDOT, speeding and distracted driving were among the leading causes of crashes.

In the Austin area, 1,596 crashes in work zones resulted in 17 deaths and 63 serious injuries, according to TxDOT.

Gregory Stephens, TxDOT’s maintenance supervisor for the Austin area, has been working on Austin’s roads for the last 18 years. He said he’s seen and experienced many close calls recalling a recent event.

“It happened so fast, I tell you. The driver, fortunately, maneuvered his way through in and out of our work zone,” he said. “They happen daily on the highway.”

In a presentation last week, TxDOT displayed 244 safety cones as a visual representation of the lives lost last year. Austin Travis County EMS Captain Christa Stedman said she and her team have also faced those close calls.

“Both us and all of our public safety partners within the city of Austin and Travis County, have all had some of our vehicles struck on the side of the road by drivers that did not move over or slow down,” Stedman said. “We almost lost some folks, we’re lucky that we didn’t but you know that luck can only hold out so long.”

Texas Work Zone Crash data from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse shows the trend of traffic deaths in work zones.

Texas Work Zone Crash data from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse

Stephens has this message for drivers.

“I just asked that each person that’s hearing this is to take driving through work zones seriously please slow down, stay off your phones,” he said. “Move over for us if you see the traffic lights, you know the warning lights going and just help us.”