Dangerous roads or dangerous drivers?

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By Lisa King

This is the first of a two-part series on accidents on city and county roads. Part one covers roads in the county. Part two will look at roads in the city.

Are roads in Shelby County dangerous?

Bob Elmore sighed as he recalled watching an ambulance carry off a woman who flipped her car and landed upside down in his yard last week.

"Usually, they get my yard going the other way," he said. "Usually, coming north, they'll misjudge that curve and they're going too fast. There's been at least a half dozen wrecks and I've been here for about 14 years. It's dangerous."

Elmore lives in the 4700 block of Ky. 55, about a quarter mile from Finchville. The accident described above happened on Aug. 6. Just two days later, a woman from Spencer County crashed her car in the 3000 block of Ky. 55, also heading into Shelbyville.

What makes that stretch of road so hazardous?

Shelby County Sheriff's Detective Jason Rice said one problem with roads like Ky. 55 is that people are exceeding the speed limit.

Driving too fast

"All of our county roads, they're not designed for any type of speed," he said. "They're all 35 miles per hour, and when your vehicle's under proper control at 35 mph, most of those roads are very negotiable. The problem is that there are many times the speed limit is not adhered to and the roads are not designed for speeds in excess of 35 mph."

Shelby County Road Supervisor Carl Henry agrees that driving too fast makes any roadway dangerous.

He expressed frustration because it's his job to make the roads safer, and many times when road improvements are made, people drive even faster, he said.

"When you pave them and make them nice and wide, they (drivers) fly," he said. "But I have to look at it from the standpoint that I'm making that road safer."

Although speed is a major factor in traffic accidents, Rice and Henry have identified other factors that drivers should be aware of concerning county roads.

Danger zones

"It's one of my pet peeves," Rice said. "Some of these danger zones, I believe to be poorly constructed. I know there are some monetary restrictions on some of them and that's why they are not up to standards. Most of them are state roads, but there are some county road problems, including shoulder issues, drop offs and things that are hard to correct. There are all kinds of danger zones if the vehicle is not under proper control."

One example, Rice said, is in Waddy.

"One that pops out in my head is Ky. 395 at the Flying J entrance," he said. "We've worked several near fatalities there. It's just a poorly designed entrance on a hillcrest. When you couple that with the amount of commercial vehicles that are going in and out that obstructs your view in both directions, it's more dangerous."

Henry has issues with dangerous hillcrests as well. In fact, at the last meeting of the Shelby County Fiscal Court on Aug. 5, he showed magistrates a photo of a sign he intends to post on Fox Run Road, an area he considers to be very dangerous.

"The hills are real sharp and cresty," he said. "You're in the car and you come up to a real sharp crest and you pop over and, boom, there's somebody looking at you."

The signs Henry intends to post state, "Caution, approaching a hillcrest."

Henry said he will put one on Fox Run near Burks Branch and hopes it will help.

He added that he remembers a triple fatality in that area three years ago.

"There will be two of these signs; they are advisory signs, telling people about the danger. That is, if they read the signs," he said.

Henry also hopes to pave the shoulder on part of Fox Run, which will serve both to widen the road and to make the shoulder safer should cars run off onto the shoulder.

"What I'd like to do is to go in and put about two or three inches of blacktop on that," he said. "That way, when it comes up on my list ready to be paved, you're getting that much more roadway. It gives it more width so I can actually put a line on that road, so people will have a line to go by."

Another area that has seen more than its share of deadly crashes is the interstate, between the 30-38 mile markers, Rice said.

"We probably work more fatalities in that stretch of roadway than other place in the county," he said. "It is an area that has a high-injury, high-fatality rate. Over the past few years, there's been literally dozens of fatalities in that area. Three of them have died going over that same bridge and there are over correction issues and some rear-ending."

Sherry Bray, public information coordinator for Kentucky State Police, reported that seven fatalities occurred in Shelby County both in 2006 and 2007.

Driver inattention

What makes the interstate so dangerous?

Speed, again, is cited as a factor in interstate deaths, Rice said.

"You're getting up to enormous speeds, so any type of malfunction, either vehicular or by driver magnifies itself one hundredfold to the point where death or serious injury becomes imminent," he said.

Kentucky State Trooper Ron Turley said that while curvy roads are dangerous, straight stretches of road, such as the interstate, are just as dangerous because they are straight.

"I think what happens a lot of times is when people are driving for long periods of time and they get to an area that's a straight stretch, they start to multi-task, and start doing other things and are not paying strict attention to their driving," he said. "They let their guard down because they believe they are in an area where their attention is less needed."

Turley added that driving, especially on the interstate, is a responsibility that everyone should take more seriously.

"Driving is a full-time job and people need to know they need to keep their mind and their eyes on driving," he said. "If they need to do anything, like reach for CDs or purses, they need to wait until they take a break or let a passenger in the car do it."

Summing Up

With all the danger zones and problem areas connected with roadways, people can still stay safe if they follow this advice, Turley said.

  • Don't get distracted

  • Don't speed
  • Don't drink and drive
  • Wear seatbelts
  • "Distractions seems to be the main problem, and when you do that, any stretch of road is dangerous," he said. "After driver inattentiveness, second is speed and alcohol is third."

    In addition to Turley's admonishment to drivers to keep their eyes on the road, Rice emphasizes the importance of slowing down.

    "People as drivers have to take responsibility for their own actions and maintain proper speed, and know that these roads, especially in the county, are designed for 35 mph traffic and that's it."

    Danger zones

    Asked to name the most dangersous stretches of road in the county, officials said:

    • Ky. 395 -- Flying J entrance

  • Fox Run
  • I-64 between 30-38 mile markers
  • Ky. 55 South