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What makes a road safe? Q&A with a highway superintendent (as described by the Journal News)

What makes a road safe? Why are there more accidents on surface roads versus highways? How much blame lies with the driver?

The following is taken from an excellent article written by Matt Cohen of the Journal News. The article may save some lives so I think it is worth reposting here:

"This year had a number of major motor vehicle crashes, including a four-car accident Aug. 15 on the Taconic State Parkway that killed three people, and an Aug. 21 truck accident in Ramapo that left two dead and shuttered the state Thruway for nearly nine hours.

Going into the holiday season - where travel increases and weather can be more of a factor - we spoke with Rockland County Superintendent of Highways Skip Vezzetti, who oversees, to varying degrees, 1,213 miles of roadway.

Question: What makes a safe road or highway?

Answer: If it's in good repair. Certainly that's a major factor, that our roads and bridges are in good repair, no potholes. Our county roads are rated very highly so we're in pretty good shape. That they're maintained very well during snow and ice incidences. One of the keys to that is doing anti-icing and getting out early, making sure you don't get black ice and icing conditions. That's usually the thing we worry about the most.

Q: Intuition might tell people that the highways are more dangerous than the surface roads, but I looked at some statistics we collected from the state DOT, and that doesn't seem like it's always the case.

A: There's things like the (Palisades Interstate) Parkway and the Thruway, when they do have accidents, they're probably worse because of the speed factor. Speed is usually the major factor in most of our fatalities or the fatalities in any municipality.

When you have fewer exits and entrances or intersections, there's less opportunities for people to pull out either to run stop signs or run red lights. Although, that same factor might ... affect the statistics, because we found that more often you have stop signs and/or lights or restrictions, there's more opportunities for these fender benders or these little rear-enders, where people will run into the back of somebody. That bumps the statistics up.

Q: I guess it's a difference in the nature of the accident?

A: That's right. Exactly.

Q: How much does human error come into play as far as road safety goes?

A: What we see, and what I see because I'm on the road all the time, people are driving around with (their phones), looking down half the time. That means they're not paying attention to their driving. Either that, or I see them (talking) on the phone. It's a distraction. For that reason, you see most of the time that's causing these fender benders or people drive to the left or drive to the right and when they get their attention back to driving, they have to make a recovery move, which makes things even worse.

I would say, by and large, the roadways themselves, although they can contribute if they're not properly maintained ... are not a major factor. The major factor is the nut behind the wheel.

Q: What do people do then, to stay safe on the roads?

A: If you know it's going to be snowing, making sure your vehicle is properly equipped, either with snow tires or all-weather tires.

Second of all, I don't care what kind of tires you have on, if it's icy conditions the best thing you can do is stay at home or stay off the roads. Let the highway people get out there and address the conditions on the road, because even our big trucks, if there's ice out, they'll slide as easily as anything else.

Night driving is another issue. ... We have a lot of roads that are not well lit, so people should just be more cautious, slow down, so that you don't over drive your lights."

Thanks Matt, Skipp and the entire Journal News staff for that article. It makes sense and the info could save some lives. I hope all drive safely during the holiday season.

For more info about automotive safety, please check out our library of articles on the subject. 

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