Without warning, a car veers off the road. Unfortunately, the driver sustains a serious injury and totals the car.
As emergency vehicles arrive on scene, they must determine the accident’s cause. Was the driver distracted or sleepy? Was the road wet after a storm? Perhaps the driver overcorrected and drove off the edge because of a missing guardrail.
Although accidents have many causes, most highway engineers and civic planners agree that safety precautions like guardrails curtail serious accidents and keep drivers safe on busy roads.
As you’ve read earlier in our blog, roads benefit from guardrails and regular guardrail repair. But if you still aren’t convinced, take a look at some of America’s most dangerous roads. Then, judge for yourself.
1. Interstate 15, Las Vegas to Los Angeles
It’s easy to argue that this highway is one of the busiest stretches of interstate roads in the western US, given the fact that Las Vegas and Los Angeles are both big-draw tourist destinations.
Although in most places the road lies flat and relatively straight, I-15 still claims too many fatalities each year. In fact, some drivers may be lulled into complacency by the relatively easy driving. The American Auto Association claims that too many drivers are distracted at the wheel. Others drink and drive or neglect their seatbelts.
Even though drivers are largely to blame for these accidents, too few guardrails may also contribute. If a sleepy truck driver crosses the median, a guardrail may be the only thing stopping the truck from a head-on collision on the opposite side of the freeway. On the other hand, a well-designed guardrail can keep a drifting truck or other vehicle in its own lane and startle the driver awake.
Since 2005, infrastructure updates have helped I-15 improve its safety record, though many areas still contain no guardrails.
2. Interstate 95, Florida
Of course, the Southeast is not immune from dangerous highways, either. Florida’s I-95 has the dubious honor of a number-one placement on the list of most dangerous roads (as compiled by the Daily Beast).
Between 2004 and 2008, 662 fatalities occurred on a 382-mile stretch of freeway, at a rate of nearly two fatal accidents per mile. This record is especially sobering when one considers that this interstate features guardrails along wide stretches of roadways.
Most officials blame the high rate of accidents on speed and inattention. Distracted drivers who text and multitask also cause multiple accidents.
At the same time, other officials speculate that the accident rate would be even higher without guardrails. Civic designers and guardrail maintenance personnel work diligently to repair aging, damaged, or out-of-place guardrails both before and after accidents along I-95.
3. US Highway 550 (The Million Dollar Highway), Silverton to Ouray, CO
Although local residents in both Ouray and Silverton, Colorado contend that Highway 550 isn’t as dangerous as its reputation proclaims, most drivers would beg to differ. Why else would USA Today proclaim the road as one of the world’s 12 most dangerous?
Northbound travelers from Ouray to Silverton may feel secure even without guardrails-as the road has none.
True, those who travel the road frequently are accustomed to the narrow, high-altitude passes, but the average tourist may understandably hold his or her breath. After all, the southbound lane on this 11,000-foot pass hovers on the edge of a deep precipice. At any point, a car could plunge over the side, and some cars have done so.
For those who follow the 25-mph speed limit, the road is safe enough in summer months; however, during the heaviest snows, the road has to close occasionally or even seasonally when conditions are too dangerous. Local snow plowers have no room to plow icy, snow-packed roads in the winter; hence, the lack of guardrails.
While a road without guardrails may indeed cause more caution while driving, a better solution might be to invest in strong guardrails and snowplows with narrower blade spans.
The Need for Infrastructure Updates
When dangerous roadways lead to fatal accidents, structural engineers jump into action; however, many older structures (including older guardrails) are part of the safety problem.
To address safety concerns, the Federal Highway Administration has recommended additional scrutiny of aging guardrails. The FHA also recommends rigorous testing for newer guardrails, to ensure they protect, not endanger, drivers.
Of course, guardrail manufacturers can produce quality products, only to face poor installation techniques. Experienced teams often repair faulty guardrails to correct an installation issue, not just maintain the guardrails (even though regular maintenance is critical).
As highway officials study crashes on America’s roadways, they learn more about which guardrails protect drivers best during impact. Some guardrails perform better than others in low-angle crashes (seen in common road accidents). Older guardrails required different crash standards, so repair personnel have to replace aging structures over time.
To learn more about street sweeping, roadway maintenance, and guardrail repair, regularly check out our helpful blog posts!