It seems like every week we have photos in the paper of horrible vehicle carnage from Highway 515. Even while writing this, there are reports of a fatal collision there. This makes the second fatal collision on the four-lane in Pickens County this month.
Last week we asked the local state patrol Post Commander Tim Nichols to check the accident rate numbers. What he found left him “honestly, shocked.”
The accidents on the four-lane hadn’t just increased, they have skyrocketed, up 53 percent this year over the same January to mid-June period last year.
In 2014, from January 1 to June 12, the GSP made reports on 275 Pickens County crashes with 47 of those on the four-lane.
At the time of Nichols’ report, GSP officers had filed reports on 313 crashes with 72 of those on the four-lane. But the Hwy. 515 numbers don’t include wrecks that occur in the intersections of the four-lane, a factor which surely raises the number considerably.
Looking at the wrecks this year, they are a result of a variety of conditions: vehicles entering the road; turning in front of others; crossing the road; one tractor trailer hitting another; a car hitting a motorcycle; a commercial truck rear-ending a vehicle and pushing it into another vehicle.
Nichols said the wrecks generally go back to two traffic violations: following too close and drivers not paying attention. In most of the wrecks we have reported on at least one driver, if not both parties, were from out of the area – motorists using the four-lane to get somewhere, rather than local folks running errands.
Cruising around Highway 515, it may seem odd there are so many wrecks there. The road is very well constructed. The wide lanes, mostly long sight-distances and big dividing median should keep drivers separated.
But, the first and worst danger is the speed. Traffic flies on those long, straight stretches of concrete. A minor driving mistake when everyone is going 65 mph (or more) results in not so minor damage. And keep in mind 55 mph is actually the speed limit on much of that route through this area. Let’s face it, we all speed there. And The GSP post commander specifically cited the number of people using their phones as another added hazard on the roads.
When you see two fatalities and a trauma ward full of injuries on the same road in half a year there is a big problem. And looking at Progress photos of past wrecks, it’s hard to believe the fatalities aren’t higher and the injuries aren’t worse.
Something needs to be done.
State agencies are publicizing an increasing problem of fatalities on Georgia roads. In May they launched the “Drive Alert, Arrive Alive” campaign. According to their information there has been a 25-percent increase in fatal wrecks in Georgia over the previous year. More than 450 fatalities have already occurred on Georgia roads this year. Prior to this year, the number of fatalities has decreased most years since 2006. More traffic enforcement and seat belt use are credited with saving lives.
This problem needs to be addressed at all levels. First with all us who drive a car. Some accidents are unavoidable – someone in your blind spot or misjudging the speed of an approaching vehicle. Other causes are very preventable: texting, speeding, driving while intoxicated.
We would further ask that all local law enforcement agencies, Jasper police, sheriff and state patrol give more attention to Highway 515/575. While it may already seem like policing is heavy there, obviously it is not, We’d much rather see a speed trap than a death trap.
Finally, we’d ask the county commissioners, Jasper mayor, DOT and Governor’s Office Highway Safety to see if there are any changes that might improve safety.
The number of wrecks, the injuries, the damage and fatalities on that four-lane are not acceptable. Highway 515 cuts through the middle of this county. There is no way to avoid it. If you go anywhere, you must either travel on it or cross it.
Having this big of a risk every time we leave home can’t be ignored. It’s time for action.