Posted October 12, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Editorial: 81 crash: Could more be done to protect us?

A fatal crash that killed two and injured one person a week ago today has left many in our community shaken.

The crash occurred at around 8 p.m. in the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 in Frederick County. A tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, which was then pushed into a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Both cars had been stopped due to road repaving work up ahead. One person in the Jeep was rescued, but two others in that vehicle perished when the Jeep burst into flames.

The truck driver received a summons for reckless driving.

A Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman told the Daily earlier this week that the warning signs that had been posted on I-81 were properly placed and "did conform to what's in the traffic control manual."

Commenters who read that story at nvdaily.com are posting some thoughtful questions:

"What prevented VDOT doing the work on, say, a Wednesday night, when traffic volume would be much less? Why not do night work only after midnight?

"Are VDOT officials saying putting up appropriate signage is a blank check to do roadwork at night without considering any other factors?" one reader asked.

Another online reader also wondered why the construction was done on a Friday night before a long holiday weekend. Several commenters deplored the fact that the state had raised the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph in 2010. Others noted that speed and poor driving contribute to most I-81 accidents.

"... the bottom line is all the signs and lights in the world make little difference in alleviating the more insidious culprits/factors of distracted driving, following too closely and not allowing sufficient time and space for slowing and stopping. In other words, a [responsible] driver adjusts for the factors and circumstances," one person commented.

Could more be done to protect motorists when construction is under way on our interstates? Would more police presence, more signs, better lighting and higher fines for violations in the work zones help?

In Virginia, nearly one-third of fatal crashes in work zones involve large trucks, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles website. The site goes on to caution truck drivers traveling through work zones:

"Expect the unexpected! ... Always leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you. If you hit someone from behind, you are typically considered "at fault," regardless of the situation.

"Large trucks require more stopping distances than other vehicles. Take advantage of your driving height, and anticipate braking situations."

While a passenger car going 55 mph can stop in 130-140 feet, the site notes, large trucks going the same speed need about 400 feet to come to a stop.

One thing is clear, all motorists need to keep a close eye on their rear-view mirrors when they are forced to a crawl or a complete stop while on the highway.

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