WSIU InFocus: Traffic Safety in Southern Illinois

Jul 26, 2017

July 26th marks Speed Awareness Day in Illinois. Traffic safety is a growing concern among southern Illinoisans, as a spike in crashes along major transportation routes continues to make headlines. But what’s causing the spike? And how will it end?

Interstate 57 from roughly Mount Vernon to just south of Marion has seen a rash of collisions over the last several months. State Police Trooper Joey Watson points to this graphic:

Credit Illinois State Police

“When you look at those blue dots on that map, and you say, ‘Wow 13 and 57 have an issue!’ Well, yeah but look at the number of vehicles that travel down the roadway every day. When you look at the number of vehicles that are going down those roadways versus any other roadway in southern Illinois, do we really have an issue on 57? Or is it a product of sheer volume and an increase in numbers?”

One big factor in the increase in traffic crashes is simply the number of vehicles on the road.

The Illinois Department of Transportation reports in June of this year, 1,290,191 cars, trucks and motorcycles traveled the stretch of Interstate 57 between Marion and Johnston City. That’s roughly 43,000 vehicles each and every day – and many drivers along that span of highway aren’t making the best choices.

“We are doing our part to address the issue, but at the end of the day it still boils down to that choice. I would love to be able to tell you that we can go out and write a bunch of tickets and that would solve the problem. But at the end of the day, it still has to happen with that driver, it has to happen with their mind and that choice.”

Those choices boil down to what police call the Fatal Four: distracted driving, impaired driving, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt.

Trooper Watson says speed is a contributor to the severity of many crashes.

Credit Illinois State Police

“You have your 3,500 pound vehicle times 55 miles per hour: that vehicle’s going to generate 192,500 pounds of crash force. It’s the speed times the weight. So 192,500. The same vehicle – 3,500 pounds – traveling now at 60 miles per hour - just five miles an hour over the speed limit on Route 13 – you’re now going to generate 210,000 pounds of crash force.”

Use that same equation to calculate crash force on the Interstate, and a 3,500 pound car generates 245,000 pounds of crash force at 70-miles an hour – the speed limit on I-57. Just five miles an hour more means 262,500 pounds. Semi trucks carry an even larger threat – an 80,000 pound average load at 70-miles an hour creates 5.6 million pounds of crash force.

Seat belt use – or lack of use – contributes to the survivability of a crash. Trooper Watson compares unsecured occupants in a vehicle during a crash to laundry in a dryer.

“That’s what it boils down to. Let’s just be honest about it. With the clothes in the clothes dryer, there is no seat belt, so they bounce around and smack all the tumblers inside the vehicle. Your pillars that support the roof, those are going to be the tumblers inside the vehicle. You strike the other occupants inside the vehicle, and it becomes devastating because of the amount of energy that’s involved in the crash.”

Driving while intoxicated or impaired is not just a bad choice in itself – it also leads to additional poor choices because of the impairment. Watson says while drunk driving was the biggest issue several years ago, drivers now are often intoxicated with other drugs – some prescribed, some not – and that makes things even more challenging.

“The generation now is experiencing more prescription drug abuse. Medical Marijuana abuse. They’re more oriented toward the drug – whether illicit or prescribed – they’re more oriented toward that type of activity. With that going on, now all of a sudden, they’re taking a hit that the doctor told them to take, and then getting behind the wheel. Again, a poor choice. And it boils down to this: It doesn’t matter where you got your drugs. Whether you got them from a street corner or whether a doctor told you to take it. If it impairs your ability to operate a vehicle, it’s a DUI.” (Cut 6)

Don't be foolish enough to think that Bluetooth is going to fix the problem. ~ISP Trooper Joey Watson

Trooper Watson says that term is about much more than texting or talking on the phone. He says conversations in the car, tuning the radio, taking care of children, and numerous other things can take a driver’s attention away from the road. He says while technology can help, it’s not the silver bullet answer.

“Don’t be foolish enough to think that Bluetooth is going to fix the problem. There are tons and tons of studies out there that point to the conversation being the issue. University of Iowa was one of the more recent ones. Virginia Technical Institute has done studies on this. What’s happening is that our brains have gotten focused on the conversation. It’s not about the act of picking up the phone.”

Trooper Watson says the only way to make the roadways safer is to do just that – make the roadways safer. And that takes everyone. Drivers must slow down, pay closer attention, and make good choices. He says accidents happen, but many can be avoided.