Surprisingly, when the Georgia DOT measured the number of people who die
in head on car crashes – per vehicle-mile – White County had
a higher death rate than any other county in Georgia. With .4 deaths per
100 million vehicle miles, White County easily outstripped any of the
metro counties, including Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett. Each of those
densely-populated counties had “just” .1 deaths per 100 million
vehicle miles, according to GDOT’s Crash Statistics, Analysis and
Information Notebook 2008.
I am a lawyer for head-on crash cases, and I have been blogging about the
surprising rate of deadly frontal crashes in rural Georgia. Today I want
to talk about why rural counties like White have such a high rate of fatal
front-to-front wrecks. At first blush, it makes no sense. Fulton County
has 949,599 people. Gwinnett County has a population of 824,941. Both
counties have massive highways and heavy traffic. How could they possibly
have a higher rate of fatal head-on wrecks than White County, with its
much smaller population of 27,273?
The answer lies in the types of roads in White County versus in the big
metro Atlanta counties, as well as the difference in the speed of the
travel in the two different locations in our state.
The Types of Roads in White County as Opposed to Metro Atlanta
While it is certainly true that Atlanta’s mega-highways, like I-75,
I-85, I-20 and I-285 see a tremendous amount of traffic, all of those
roads have multiple lanes going in each direction. Huge walls separate
the lanes heading in one direction from the lanes heading in another direction.
Thus, if a driver is inattentive and drifts over into the next lane, the
driver may cause a wreck – but the wreck is more likely to be a
side impact or a rear impact than a frontal collision.
Rural areas like White County, by contrast, have far more two-lane roads.
These roads have no median at all. If a driver is inattentive on a two-lane
road, and loses his lane of travel, he has only one other lane into which
he can drift – the one headed in the opposite direction.
The Speed of the Travel in Metro Atlanta, Versus the Speed in White County
Ironically, metro Atlanta’s heavy traffic actually reduces the rate
of fatalities. When traffic has slowed to a crawl, even a head-on crash
is far less dangerous. In general, a head-on crash where both vehicles
are going 10 miles per hour is far, far less powerful than a frontal collision
with both cars headed toward one another at 55 mph. The result? Fewer
of the metro Atlanta crashes are fatal.
In Atlanta, many of the frontal crash happen when someone goes up the off-ramp
on one of the big highways. A fairly significant number of these wrecks
occur when the driver is under the influence (DUI) after drinking alcohol.
Atlanta does have some dangerous on-ramps, however, where anyone can become
confused about whether he is on the right ramp. Metro Atlantans will remember
the terrible wreck when a bus carrying a school team went up the ramp
that came off I-75 at Northside Drive. Bizarrely, the ramp comes off in
the middle of the highway, at the far left side of the southbound lanes
of I-75. The ramp was extremely short, and poorly marked. The bus driver
came up the ramp at highway speeds, obviously thinking he was still in
a highway lane. Tragically, the bus went right across Northside Dr. and
off the other side, killing the bus driver, his wife, and many of the
students. The Georgia DOT did spend substantial time modifying and posting
signs at the ramp after that horrific accident occurred.