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Rhode Island’s Most Dangerous Intersections: Experts React

Thursday, January 24, 2013

 

GoLocal analyzed data on Rhode Island's high crash intersections and interchanges from the 5 percent report each state submits to the Federal Highway Administration's Highway Safety Improvement Program to determine which were the most dangerous for the Ocean State's drivers.

Rhode Island's Highway Interchanges

The analysis revealed that the state's high-volume, high-speed interstates and highways saw the greatest number of crashes, but the sheer number of crashes alone is only one aspect in determining the safety risks at an interchange or intersection, said Robert Rocchio, managing engineer of the Traffic Management and Highway Safety Division at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

"That's where this data comes into play."

RIDOT looks at not only where the crashes are occurring, but also what type of crashes occur at a specific intersection or interchange. Rocchio said the department uses a weighted ranking system that assigns a certain amount to fatal crashes and property damage only ones, and breaks down injury crashes on separate scale based on severity as well. For example, a particular intersection might be the site of 50 property damage only crashes, while another has only 25 crashes, but half of those involve serious injury.

Rocchio said RIDOT tries to implement near-term solutions at problematic intersections but also performs studies and generates recommendations for potential larger projects, which would play into the state's transportation improvement plan.

Several of the intersections identified in GoLocal's analysis have already been the subject of improvements since the crash data was collected in 2010, such as Exit 20 on I-95 and the Thurbers Ave. curve, and Rocchio said preliminary data and initial studies show significant decreases in collisions and increases in safety.

How Rhode Island Compares

The data submitted by Rhode Island included street intersections as well as highway interchanges and ramps, the state's highest-volume roadways, which some other New England states, such as Massachusetts, did not include in their reports.

Interchanges on those roadways, which see over 100,000 cars per day in some areas, dominated Rhode Island's list, and by extension, the New England rankings.

"It is inconceivable that Rhode Island represents eight of the worst 10 intersections in New England, and any thorough review of comparable data provided by all six New England states would easily prove otherwise," said Bryan Lucier, senior information and public relations specialist at RIDOT.

Drivers Behaving Badly

At the end of the day, there's only so much engineering and design can do to keep roads safe, and the most dangerous part of the equation is often drivers themselves.

According to Rocchio, the three major causes of crashes in Rhode Island, and fatal ones in particular, are speeding, impaired or drowsy driving and distracted driving.

"It's really behavioral issues," he said. "If people were not engaging in these risky driving behavoirs and negative driving behaviors it would dramatically, dramatically reduce the number of crashes."

He noted that there have been 48 teenage driving fatalities in Rhode Island over the last five years. In 44 of those cases, the teenager killed was not wearing a seatbelt. The more startling fact, said Rocchio, was that every single one of the 48 teenagers killed did not have a parent or guardian in the vehicle with them at the time, which would seem to indicate different driving behaviors based on who else is in the car.

"It's a whole differnet behavior when their parents aren't there."

John Paul, Manager of Traffic Safety for AAA of Southern New England, said that even though texting while driving is illegal in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, he suspects many drivers still continue to engage in the risky behavior.

"There's only about 2 percent of the population that can truly multitask," he said. "We want people to just drive.

"Ideally, we'd like to see people lock their cell phones in their glove compartment as soon as they get in the car and just focus on driving." 

 

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