What intersections are the most dangerous? Do a quick Google search and you will find research from 2012. The 2012 data is interesting. But, it’s old data. In the seven years since, Huntsville has grown tremendously. Development has created new accident dangers. Traffic patterns have expanded. Many intersections have been modified. In short, much has changed in the last seven years. The most dangerous intersections in 2012 may not be the most dangerous intersections today. What intersections were listed as most dangerous in 2012? Here they are:
- Old Madison Pike at Research Park Boulevard
- Jordan Lane at University Drive
- University Drive at Memorial Parkway (Southbound)
- Jordan Lane at Interstate 565
- I-565 at Research Park Boulevard
- Mastin Lake Road at Memorial Parkway
- Governors Drive at Memorial Parkway
- Sparkman Drive at I-565
- Jordan Lane / Alabama 53 at Research Park Boulevard
- Memorial Parkway between Clinton Avenue and Governors Drive
You will probably notice a clear pattern in the 2012 data. The most dangerous intersections are largely located in heavy traffic areas along Interstate 565 and Memorial Parkway. If you live or work in Huntsville, it would be very difficult to avoid regularly traveling through many of these intersections. They are the primary roads in our area.
I don’t want to simply list the most dangerous intersections. Since they are largely unavoidable by local drivers, the information is not very helpful. What is helpful? A discussion of ways to make our roads safer is a better topic. What can we do to prevent needless accidents and injuries? How can we improve intersection safety?
How Can We Improve Intersection Safety?
The 2012 data tells us something important. The most dangerous intersections are those (1) with heavily trafficked areas; (2) with lots of crossing traffic / conflict points; and, (3) with multiple, confusing choices. With that information in mind, we can begin to think about improving intersection safety. Let’s talk about steps to improve the safety of our busiest local intersections. A 2016 newspaper article from Florida lists Five Things Your City Should Do To Improve Intersection Safety. The five listed steps are:
- Engineering Fixes
- Fewer Opportunities To Turn Left
- Lighting & Signage Improvements
- Banning Cell Phone Use
- New Educational Programs
I’m not sure about all five of these items. I might list them differently. Here is how I would list and discuss them:
1. Engineering Fixes
Busy intersections are dangerous because drivers face multiple decisions with many potential conflict points between cars. Traffic engineers can work to design better intersections that reduce complex driver decisions and reduce potential conflict points. Better design often includes fewer opportunities to turn left. So, I include the issue of reducing left turns within the topic of engineering fixes.
Consider recently proposed changes for the intersection of Highway 72 and Dug Hill Road. Several fatal crashes have occurred at this intersection. In a recent article, one local driver called this intersection the most dangerous in northern Alabama. It’s definitely one of the most dangerous. This intersection involves drivers approaching at high speeds from opposite directions on multi-lane Highway 72. These high-speed highway drivers barely notice the intersection. At the same time, drivers on Dug Hill have multiple choices of direction. Straight. Left. Right. Drivers going straight across the highway or turning into the left bound lanes, must be aware of traffic in all directions while maneuvering their vehicle over a wide space. It’s very dangerous. It’s dangerous because the driver faces multiple choices and multiple conflicts in an area of fast-moving traffic.
For many years, local residents have requested a red light at the intersection. I have supported that request. The Alabama Department of Transportation should have studied the intersection and acted long ago. Thankfully, they are now doing something. Recently, traffic engineers proposed altering the intersection so drivers on Dug Hill cannot turn left onto Highway 72. This design alteration would eliminate the most dangerous movements and conflict points at the intersection.
Another recent example of an engineering fix involves University Drive. Serious car crashes caused by drivers turning left across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic were a frequent occurrence. Often, several drivers would be making conflicting turns near each other at the same time. It was very dangerous. In my law practice, I’ve seen far too many injuries from these crashes. In recent years, engineers installed barriers and turning lanes along University Drive to limit the places where drivers can make a left turn across oncoming traffic lanes.
Engineering and design controls can slow traffic, limit unsafe choices, and reduce conflict points. Another example of an engineering fix is the roundabout. Roundabouts present several engineering and safety benefits. They eliminate left turn conflict points. They slow traffic but also allow traffic to flow. I discussed roundabout safety at length in a prior blog post.
2. Lighting And Signage Improvements
We’ve all experienced it. You are approaching a busy intersection. Maybe you are unfamiliar with the road. As you approach, you see multiple signs and lights pointing in all directions. It’s a nightmare. You are thinking — Where do I go? You don’t have long to decide. Who designed or constructed such a mess? When drivers are faced with this situation, they often hesitate, make choices at the last moment, or worse, change decisions in the middle of the intersection.
In other situations, the lights and signs may not be properly visible. We’ve all approached an intersection where the light or sign was not well lit or not properly placed for maximum visibility.
Lighting and Signage. Traffic engineers should always first consider intersection design. That’s why I first discussed that topic. You first design the intersection as safely as possible. Then, you use the best traffic controls through lighting and signage to keep traffic moving safely. Traffic lights and signs must be visible and easily understood.
3. Cell Phone Distraction
The first two items on my list are important traffic engineering issues. But, intersection safety is not just a topic for road designers and builders. It’s a topic for all of us. Driver distraction is also a major factor for intersection collisions. Intersections require attention. Yet, too many drivers are distracted. What is our biggest driver distraction? The cell phone.
Distracted driving is a topic I discuss frequently. You can read many of my articles on this issue. As drivers, we must all work to reduce the problem of driver distraction. How do we reduce dangerous distracted driving? We move forward with legal changes, technology advances, and driver education.
Intersection Safety Concerns Pedestrians, Bicyclists and Drivers
We typically think of intersection safety in terms of car drivers. Yet, modern intersections involve much more. The most dangerous Huntsville intersections in 2012 had almost no pedestrian or bicycle traffic. As our city grows, that will change. It has already begun to change. Safe intersections include considerations of pedestrians and bicyclists. In Huntsville, our city has been proactive in designing special lanes and controls for these issues.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we help injured people and their families. We take our cases seriously. Our goal in each case is to recover the maximum damages for our injured clients. Outside the courtroom, we believe lawyers should continue to advocate for their neighbors. That’s why we frequently discuss topics related to safer roadways, safer workplaces and safer products.