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Are Interstates Safer Than Highways

author
Daniel Brown
• Wednesday, 18 November, 2020
• 9 min read

In this case research recently published by North Carolina State University and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, using fatal crash data from 2005-2009, found that 72 percent of fatal crashes in North Carolina, and 59 percent of fatal crashes in Virginia, occurred on non-interstate roads. Attendees of the Transportation Research Board annual conference recently heard about the study and possible implications.

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(Source: www.slideshare.net)

Contents

Fleets with less than 10 power units were found to make up a larger percentage of fatal truck-involved crashes. As an industry it is important for us to get involved in conversations about road design and planning.

Riders have expressed to me a wide range of feelings over the years regarding interstate highways. Likewise, the arguments I see in the forums are also based on the riders' relatively limited experience and deductive reasoning.

The most recent relevant data I could find is in the NHTSA publication NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2009, page 55, Table 32: “Crashes by Number of Lanes, Traffic way Flow, and Crash Severity.” Interstates appear to offer a significant, but relatively small safety advantage over non-divided, full-access roads.

I was certain that divided, multi-lane highways were much safer than the typical city street or country road. Unfortunately, none of this data allows us to make a comparison of the relative safety of riding motorcycles on interstates.

However, if we look at the data for all traffic, we can find interesting NHTSA assessments of safety issues regarding interstates. While we're on the subject of I95, NHTSA identifies the Florida section of I95 as particularly dangerous and published an entire report on fatalities on the D.C. Beltway.

arizona deadliest interstates some fatalities seatbelt pedestrians failure involving distracted decreases drivers fact alcohol saw bad use
(Source: www.onlyinyourstate.com)

NHTSA data also make clear that (1) the use of helmet reduces greatly the chance of being killed relative to not wearing a helmet and (2) consuming alcohol and then riding soon thereafter is a great way to reduce one's life expectancy. So, I stand mildly corrected: driving on interstates in general is not much safer than other roads.

While more crashes happen in urban areas, more fatalities occur on those lonesome old country roads. Rural routes are often more narrow, with more curves and hills that block the view.

All too often, drivers underestimate these curvy roads and drive too fast to maintain control. This can be especially dangerous in no-passing zones and areas where the view is blocked by hills or curves.

This also means that there is nowhere to swerve to escape emergency situations (such as an on-coming vehicle passing a slower driver in the left lane). To top it all off, the local wildlife have been known to cause their fair share of crashes.

In fact, sometimes they seem downright suicidal, waiting for a car to pass so that they can jump out at the last second. High speed interstate travel comes with its own fair share of troubles.

wyoming crash wreck highway interstate killed pileup truck semi jackknifed three pile patrol lawmakers march sunday led vehicle reaction after
(Source: billingsgazette.com)

While more deaths occur on country roads, far more non-fatal crashes happen on these high-traffic routes. When things get especially crowded, drivers begin to shed their safe-driving common sense.

In an effort to force their way through slow-moving traffic, many people will make poor decisions, drive recklessly and even develop road rage. When traveling at 70+ mph, it can be hard to react to an emergency situation before it’s too late.

Keep these common dangers of driving on your mind before you head out, and you’ll be ready for anything. Answer: You’re 83 percent correct about the studies on roundabouts and collisions (and I just made up that percentage).

The study was done in the year after the roundabouts were installed, when many drivers using them were still unfamiliar with how to navigate them properly. As for other possible reasons for the increases, a study in Wisconsin found that a significant number of roundabout crashes were caused by drivers running off the road.

Taking 2017 as an example, of the 565 fatalities that year 91 of them were on a limited-access freeway, while the rest were on city, county and state roads. But in this case, raw numbers aren’t that helpful because we have a lot more city, county and state roads than freeways in Washington.

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(Source: havensalt.com)

In Washington, we have about three-and-a-half times more fatal crashes per 100 million miles traveled on local, collector and arterial roads compared to freeways. Also, run-off-the-roadway crashes resulted in 194 fatalities in 2017, and while you can run off the road on both a freeway and a side street, the distance between the fog line and the closest immovable object is generally a lot farther away on a freeway.

Shoulders that are as wide as another lane, along with wide patches of grass beyond the shoulders, help to mitigate the consequences of running off the freeway, while on side streets you’ll find telephone poles and buildings mere feet away from the traffic lane. Unless we return to the speed limits set in 1909 (12 mph in the city and 24 mph on rural roads, which coincidentally is about the speed that you’ll travel in a roundabout) the freeway will be the safer bet.

Doug Dahl, Target Zero manager communications lead, answers questions about road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices every Monday. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030.

A discussion on an email list had me thinking that as scary as the interstate highways can be, there are overall more accidents on “surface” streets. Part of these statistics are going to be affected by the fact that most of the time, most cars are not going 55 mph but something slower.

One of the primary reasons for building the Interstate System was to improve the safety of the highway users: drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Over the past 50 years, the Interstate System has done much to make highway travel safer and more efficient.

infrastructure transform technology help surveys roars freight halfmoon potential pacific crew canadian train past development area its
(Source: blog.timesunion.com)

When the Interstate Construction Program began in 1956, the national fatality rate was 6.05. This improvement in safety has been the result of many factors working together: the shifting of traffic onto the safer Interstate highways and technological advances in safety, such as wider shoulders; slid-resistant pavements; better guardrail, sign, and markings; clearer sight distances; and breakaway sign posts and utility poles.

In addition, many other factors have contributed to improved safety on the Nation’s highway system, including new vehicle safety features, such as shatterproof glass, padded interiors, safety belts and airbags; programs to reduce impaired driving; and the combined, coordinated efforts of many private organizations and public agencies working together to make the Nation’s highways ever safer. This subject was covered in some detail in the BBC stats program More or Less (I couldn’t find a link to the exact episode, but it’s well worth listening to IMO).

And one of the factors they brought up was the fact that cyclists have to stick to back roads, whereas most driving is done on freeways (which is indeed much safer). Not to mention on some roads, there’s no place to go if you have a problem (there are highways here with no shoulder at all, and if you break down in a middle lane, no way to get there even if it exists)… needless to say, I have several friends who will go to some lengths to avoid the Beltway.

And one of the factors they brought up was the fact that cyclists have to stick to back roads, whereas most driving is done on freeways (which is indeed much safer). If you exclude the above categories and motorcycles, then the fatality rate is under 1 person per 10^8 miles.

Slight side track, but this is also why you should get the hell out of your car if you ever have to break down on the hard shoulder. But actually a stationary car is the most dangerous place to be next to a highway (even more so at night, as when people fall asleep at the wheel the tend to drift into the right hand “lane”, i.e. the hard shoulder).

I don’t have any hard numbers, but I feel it’s worth pointing out that fatalities are not the only measure of safety on highways vs surface roads. I don’t even know if hard numbers exist for this, since pain (particularly to soft tissue like back and neck) is so subjective.

Name tag January 11, 2011, 12:31pm #12 griffin1977: Slight side track, but this is also why you should get the hell out of your car if you ever have to break down on the hard shoulder. But actually a stationary car is the most dangerous place to be next to a highway (even more so at night, as when people fall asleep at the wheel the tend to drift into the right hand “lane”, i.e. the hard shoulder).

If there is no crash barrier and no way to get off the highway (which is my perception of most California freeways), stay in the car. True… except on the Beltway (which is the highway I drive most often) there are exits / entrances every mile or so, from the left and from the right, so there truly are things happening from every direction.

You’re dumped directly into the fastest lane, generally attempting to merge into traffic where the existing vehicles take it as a personal affront that you’re trying to merge… instead of recognizing that the merger is merely attempting to enter the highway without crashing at 70 mph into a concrete barrier with unpleasant consequences for everyone. Yeah, its shitty design, but it’s the reality, and is one example of why people might be nervous about highway driving.

Those are pretty rare nowadays, but there’s a similar three-lane setup on the route I take to visit my parents. However, the middle lane alternates between eastbound and westbound in one-mile sections, so it’s less scary: link.

If there is no crash barrier and no way to get off the highway (which is my perception of most California freeways), stay in the car. The only time it would be a bad idea is up in the sierras where there could be a 200ft drop a couple of feet from the road.

Those are pretty rare nowadays, but there’s a similar three-lane setup on the route I take to visit my parents. However, the middle lane alternates between eastbound and westbound in one-mile sections, so it’s less scary: link.

Plus you have to deal with pedestrians standing in the middle lane at night that you can only see when they are silhouetted by the oncoming cars. I'll be taking a long trip here on Monday for Christmas, and I'm trying to plan my route.

It puts me on edge. But I understand taking back roads (2 lane highways with an average speed limit of 55) has its own share of possible difficulties (traffic stops, deer, incoming slower drivers who are almost impossible to pass sometimes, etc). Interstate runs 75 and some run 80. As long as road conditions are good, traffic is moving and maintaining a safe distance nothing wrong with those speeds.

I'll be taking a long trip here on Monday for Christmas, and I'm trying to plan my route. I'm actually a bit defensive when I get onto the Interstates going 80+ miles per hour.

The one that gets you off the road the soonest with the least number of road/traffic condition changes along the way. If YOU are uncomfortable or feel unsafe at the higher speed of an interstate I'll suggest that you are unsafe at the lower speeds as well. I like the back roads because they're more interesting; I find the interstates mind-numbingly boring.

And I've tried books on “tape,” but they tend to put me to sleep too. When my husband and I lived in Tallahassee FL we often drove to visit his family in Savannah GA and also to visit my family in Orlando FL. On each trip we had the option of interstate highways or back roads, which were usually four-lane, practically empty, and went through a few interesting little towns on the way.

Although the interstate trips were a little shorter, we generally opted for the back roads. Added bonus: each trip on the back roads had good barbecue restaurants to stop at for lunch along the way.

Having taken numerous road trips from Ontario to Florida over the years, I find absolutely nothing to worry about when travelling on the Interstate system. However, I should mention that living on the GTA along the most heavily traveled stretch of highway in North America (the 401), anywhere on an American Interstate is relaxing by comparison.

And a nice grassy median on an interstate pretty much prevents that kind of crash. I'll be taking a long trip here on Monday for Christmas, and I'm trying to plan my route.

It puts me on edge. But I understand taking back roads (2 lane highways with an average speed limit of 55) has its own share of possible difficulties (traffic stops, deer, incoming slower drivers who are almost impossible to pass sometimes, etc). No one bothers me except for those who use their right mirror to pass too close or those who think that people merging onto the highway have the right of way.

As far as your speed is concerned, risk of serious injury or worse is much greater when the driver can't get their car below 40 MPH on impact. With regard to Winter driving, people with four-wheel drive and eight-cylinder engines need to remember that all of that power is not going to help you stop that Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I drive across country twice a year primarily on the interstates for those reasons. Please register to post and access all features of our very popular forum.

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Sources
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2 segmentnext.com - https://segmentnext.com/2019/09/26/the-surge-2-combat-drone-and-modules-guide/
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4 filmora.wondershare.com - https://filmora.wondershare.com/drones/top-heavy-lift-drones.html
5 www.gamingnexus.com - https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5976/The-Surge-2/
6 www.capterra.com - https://www.capterra.com/p/193132/Surge/