Gridlock Guy: National traffic data shows I-285 deadliest highway

Mark Arum is off this week. Doug Turnbull is the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB and writes how own traffic blog on wsbradio.com.

Another gloomy traffic distinction belongs to Metro Atlanta. 2013 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that Interstate 285 is one of America’s deadliest freeways. Sarah Frostenson on Vox.com took the fatal crash data from that year, mapped each crash, and calculated the statistics for each interstate. I-285 did not have the highest number of fatal wrecks or the greatest number of crash-related deaths - I-4 in Florida leads those stats. But Frostenson came up with another interesting metric to measure how deadly an interstate is.

I-285 had the second-most fatal wrecks (26) and deaths (29) that year. But Frostenson decided a better way to measure a freeway’s danger was to calculate the number of fatal crashes per 10 miles. That pegs I-285 with 3.5 fatal crashes every 10 miles in 2013, .5 more than the next-highest freeway. Seeing I-285 at the top of the list probably isn’t a surprise to many of us. But the similarities to the interstates in the same top 10 list with the Perimeter shine a light as to why.

Major design flaws or a lack of talent in the Atlanta driving pool are probably not unique reasons that make I-285 so comparatively lethal. Seven of the top 10 deadliest interstates are bypasses or perimeters in their own right. That may not seem to mean much, but it does. Think about I-285 - it is filled with tractor trailers and attracts people that aren’t from Atlanta, who are trying to avoid the jams on the Downtown Connector (Interstates 75/85). This mix of characteristics is common on bypass freeways and is exactly those roads’ purpose.

The presence of tractor trailers automatically makes conditions more dangerous. People in smaller vehicles constantly jostle in and out of lanes as if the big rigs are moving chicanes, doing so in the the large trucks’ blind spots and causing them to make evasive moves or hit those cars. Those maneuvers are often what causes the big rigs to overturn or to plow into other vehicles, thus making for nastier wrecks.

Stir in some out-of-town drivers searching for their exits or unfamiliar with the sharp turns in the I-285/I-20 interchange in DeKalb County or the other tricky one just a few miles away at I-75 in Clayton, and the recipe is in place for more crashes. More wrecks, means more chances of fatal ones.

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Every interstate in Frostenson’s top 10 list was in or near a large metropolitan area. So naturally that means more commuters, more tourists, and a higher crash probability.

With this fact in mind, drive with even more awareness on I-285. Think twice before trying to squeeze between two tractor trailers, as you move to exit at the last second. Read the signs and obey the speed limits on those sharp transition ramps on the south side Perimeter. And, please, don’t stray your eyes to your smart device. With all of the aforementioned variables swirling around I-285, you just cannot afford to miss one. That could be the difference in life and death.

Gridlock updatesMark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.

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