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A traffic control flagger is a person whose job is to maintain safe conditions on the road when unusual conditions exist on a roadway. These conditions may be related to construction, emergency vehicles, or unexpected interference on the roadway such as an accident or fallen tree. The traffic control flagger alerts vehicles of the appropriate action to be taken using standardized symbols and gestures, keeping both motorists and people working on the road as safe as possible.
As this is a skilled position with great responsibility, some areas require traffic control flaggers to be certified by a regulatory agency. In others, the skills are learned on the job. A traffic control flagger must have an excellent understanding of traffic laws, knowledge of the standardized flagger signals used in the area where he or she works, and the ability to use all equipment associated with the job.
The skills that being a traffic control flagger requires varies depending on location. This is because the knowledge one needs to be a flagger in, say, Japan is different from the knowledge needed in Australia. Different signs, signals, and traffic conventions may be used in different areas.
Among the many tools that may be used by a traffic control flagger, some of the most important are the signs and gestures used for notifying motorists of conditions ahead. These include signs instructing drivers to go slowly or stop, cones to guide traffic, and hand signals to communicate more vigorously or in lieu of these other measures. At night, these may be supplemented by lighted signs and signal batons. A brightly colored and often reflective uniform is also important for safety, as it helps drivers to see the flagger. Communication devices such as hand held walkie talkies are less visible than other tools, but possibly even more important because they allow coordination between flaggers and quick communication when conditions change.
In most situations, a traffic control flagger is only used when the conditions changing the road are not permanent. If the condition were permanent and motorists were not in danger, an electronic signal and signs might be used to alert motorists of that change in the roadway. In some countries, machines designed to fulfill the function of a traffic control flagger are used instead of human workers. This is thought to provide road workers with the same degree of safety as a human worker, but with less human error, lower costs, and no dangerous working conditions created by standing in traffic.
In many states in the USA, construction zones have a lowered speed limit and fines are doubled when workers are present. This is because so many traffic control flaggers and other workers have been killed or seriously injured because of cars speeding through work zones. I suppose the road work signs don't apply to them.
Some people slow down as soon as they see the signs and then the construction cones, while other drivers wait to merge until they are in the last 10 feet of the lane and they wait for someone to let them into the line of traffic.
A good flagger keeps traffic flowing on both sides of the construction zone, while still ensuring the safety of the rest of his work crew.