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Roadway Hazards: Accident Sites Waiting For Victims

(have you looked at county roads lately?)


On Saturday evening, February 7, 1998, a young woman was heading west on New Garden between Brassfield and Jefferson Roads when her car left the road onto the soft shoulder. As she attempted to get back on the road, she apparently lost control and skidded into the oncoming lane striking an approaching vehicle head on. As the trauma surgeon on call for the Moses Cone Level II Trauma Center, I was never called to see her because she died at the scene. In my role in caring for accident victims, I have seen this scenario repeated countless times with outcomes ranging from death, to severe abdominal and thoracic injuries, to paraplegia, and severe head injuries. The story is always very similar--the driver ran slightly off the roadbed and attempted to get back on the road and lost control of the vehicle. The out of control vehicle may hit an oncoming car, a tree, or flip over and eject the occupants.

It is my opinion that there are two obvious contributing factors that are correctable and should lead to a reduction in these preventable accidents. The first factor is the state of the road shoulders in our county and the immediate hazard that they pose. The second factor is the inadequate training that student drivers receive in identifying and anticipating this hazard and knowing how to resist impulse and deal with this hazard safely.

This is a picture (below) of New Garden Road a few feet from where the above mentioned accident occurred. As you can see, there is no paved road outside of the painted road right of way. The drop off the pavement measures 6 to 7 inches. There is a segment on the eastbound side of the same road about 200 feet away that is a rut that runs 6 inches deep and is about 50 feet long. It is not hard to imagine what happens if you drive off of the marked roadway and fall into a 7 inch rut at 45 mph. Ideally, roads such as this should have a partially paved shoulder that is wider and allows for some driver margin of error. If our lawmakers do not wish to appropriate such funds, then at least an attempt should be made to identify these areas of the county roads and repair these ruts.

The second factor is a lack of instruction during drivers education about dealing with these hazards. As a father of a new sixteen year old driver, I was disappointed in the classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction that she received. Dealing with just this hazard was not emphasized and she was left to deal with the hazard with the normal human reflex which is to swerve to get back on the roadway. She has not been taught to take her foot off the gas and allow the car to come to a stop off the road before trying to get back on the road. Unfortunately, the above mentioned road conditions are not forgiving and lead to tragedies such as occurred on Feb. 7.

As we send our children to schools that are out in the county, we must examine these roadways for road shoulder hazards such as this. Having seen victims of wrecks from the all quadrants of the county, and having driven the major roads leading to these high schools, I have seen many driving hazards such as this with a narrow roadway and a rutted soft shoulder. These areas must be identified and repaired. Secondly, I think that driver's education programs should deal with more situational hazards and that with time, repetition, and rehearsal, these students will effectively handle this roadway hazard. To do nothing is to ignore a health hazard waiting to cause irreparable injury, grief and economic loss. Remember, you may be the person in the oncoming lane.



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