A recent Al.com article started with the title – Why Driving in Alabama is a Frightening Proposition. Naturally, I took the bait and clicked on the article. Maybe the article would tell us “why” Alabama has a high rate of accidents compared to other states? I hoped it would. But, the article did not live up to its title. While the article did use data to claim Alabama is the 5th most dangerous state for drivers, it did not tell the reader “why” our roads are especially dangerous. The article provided no insight as to why we have a high rate of traffic-related injuries and deaths. Yet, the reasons for these injuries and deaths are exactly what we should be discussing and correcting.
Let’s look at some of the major causes of driver injury. Distracted driving is a major safety issue on our roadways. We see distracted driving injuries every day at our law firm. Is distracted driving an issue that makes Alabama more dangerous than other states? Probably not. While distracted driving causes many traffic injuries and deaths, it is an issue both in Alabama and elsewhere. Impaired driving is a major safety issue on our roadways. Is impaired driving an issue that makes Alabama more dangerous than other states? Probably not. Communities throughout the United States struggle with similar substance abuse and addiction issues. So, what makes our roads more dangerous for drivers? Why is Alabama more dangerous than other states? I wish the Al.com reporter had explored the issue.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post titled Alabama’s Highway of Death. The post discusses the inclusion of Highway 431 through Alabama on a list of the most dangerous roads in the world. That’s right, our stretch of Highway 431 is included in a list of dangerous roads that scale mountains, run along canyons and are regularly covered in a sheet of ice. Clearly, the other roads have much more dramatic dangers. Why was Highway 431 considered such a dangerous road? In my prior post, I provided five reasons why Highway 431 is dangerous for drivers. These five reasons also play a large role in the high rate of automobile accidents throughout Alabama. They are:
- High speeds on rural stretches of the highway. Many of our major highways have long rural stretches with a high speed limit. Although the speed limit may be high, these highways are not designed like Interstates. They are not as well lit. Access is not limited. The high speed stretch of highway may have driveways to private homes and farms. The high speed stretch of highway may also have slow farm equipment entering and exiting the roadway.
- Sudden stops in many of the small towns along the highway. If you drive highway 431 regularly, as I do, then you are familiar with the many towns along the route. You may be driving a rural stretch at a high speed and suddenly enter a small town. The speed limit drops tremendously and suddenly. And, in some small towns along the route, the highway is the central road in town. You are suddenly faced with traffic lights, multiple intersections and traffic related to nearby small businesses. The drivers at these sudden stops include a mix of local residents who may be distracted by their daily errands, travelers unfamiliar with the town and large commercial trucks making deliveries. It’s a combination of drivers and events creating significant risks of crashes. In Alabama, Highway 431 is not the only road that takes drivers through many small towns with sudden stops. Highway 31 is similar as it spans the state. So is Highway 43 as well as several other highways.
- Sudden changes in the number of lanes. Many Alabama highways have sudden changes in lanes. The same highway may quickly change from a four lane divided highway to a narrow two lane road with a no passing zone. And, adding to the natural lane changes, many of these roads seem to stay in an almost permanent state of construction. That means unexpected lane shifts and closures.
- Large numbers of vehicles entering and exiting the highway in towns along the route. In many of our small towns, Highway 431 (or Highways 31 or 43) is the main traffic artery. On a short stretch of highway, you have long-distance travelers, large commercial trucks making deliveries, local citizens on daily errands and teenage drivers going to school. It’s a mix of drivers with different goals. The highway is intersected by many smaller roads with local drivers who may or may not be paying attention.
- Poorly lit rural stretches of the highway. In my law practice, I frequently travel across the state for court. I also occasionally travel to Atlanta (usually for a deposition). These trips can be all day events. So, I may be driving home at night. Many stretches of our highways span rural areas and are poorly lit. While I’m familiar with these highways, some travelers may not be. That adds to the risk of an accident. Additionally, many drivers travel too fast at night and overrun their headlights. And, many large trucks travel these highways at night as well. All these conditions (and many more nighttime conditions) create additional risks of car crashes on poorly lit stretches of highway.
In addition to these five reasons, Alabama also places few restrictions on teen drivers, does not inspect cars and has a high rate of uninsured drivers. Those issues add to the dangers on our roadways. Let’s do more than simply ask “why” our highways are dangerous. Let’s discuss the reasons “why” so that safety can be improved.