- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) - Diamond-shaped signs mark the spots along the state’s highways where fatal accidents have occurred, but the Edmunds County sheriff has seen enough wrecks in his county to know something needs to change along U.S. Highway 12.

“I’m urging the public to contact the South Dakota Department of Transportation, contact the governor and contact their representatives in their district and talk about their concerns with the highway and these unneeded fatalities,” Edmunds County Sheriff Todd Holtz told the American News (https://bit.ly/1l0cXZR ).

Highway 12 from the state Highway 45 intersection at Craven Corner into Brown County, where the highway divides west of Aberdeen, has historically been a bad stretch, he said.

“We have a lot of (grain) terminals out here, a lot of truck traffic, and there’s just a lot of extra traffic on the road than ever before,” Holtz said.

About two weeks ago, another wreck, and more lives lost: Two vehicles traveling in opposite directions hit head-on near Mina, killing three people.



From the start of 2010 through the end of last month, there were nine accidents that resulted in fatalities in the 100 miles between Aberdeen and Mobridge, according to information from the state Department of Public Safety. And those numbers don’t include the crash near Mina.

Those nine fatal accidents represent 1.4 percent of the 663 accidents between 2010 and the end of October along U.S. Highway 12 from Aberdeen to Mobridge, the statistics show. With the wreck near Mina folded in, 18 people have died on the highway in not quite six years.

Lee Axdahl, director of the Office of Highway Safety, said it’s difficult to evaluate highway safety.

Statewide there were 17,346 accidents in 2014, according to department records. Of those accidents 136 - about 0.8 percent - were fatal.

“If you were to plot out the fatalities, it’s spread out across the state, which makes it difficult, with tens of thousands of county roads and interstates, to always have the law enforcement out there to prevent accidents,” Axdahl said.

Axdahl said statistics from all crash reports across the state are processed each year by the Department of Public Safety, and the factors that contribute to those accidents are evaluated to see why the crashes happened and if any mitigating action is needed.

“From our angle, we look at the data and use that data to try to figure out where in the state something might happen next,” Axdahl said.

As an example, he said, a high number of alcohol-related accidents could result in more frequent sobriety checkpoints. If there’s a structural change that can improve the safety of a road, he said, the DOT evaluates the area.

Day County Sheriff Barry Hillestad said that type of safety evaluation is happening now along the curves of U.S. Highway 12 near Andover, about 35 miles east of Aberdeen. Department of Public Safety statistics show two fatal accidents there this year and one each in 2013 and 2014.

“A lot of it has been alcohol-involved crashes in that area,” Hillestad said.

Even though alcohol has been a factor in some of the Day County crashes, the DOT did a review of the road because of the high rate of crashes, Hillestad said. He said some remedies discussed include modifying the road surface for increased traction, changing signage and adjusting culverts.

Phil Dwight, area engineer for the state DOT, said there has been talk of a high-friction surface near Andover, but there are no immediate plans.

Realigning a culvert in that area has also been discussed. That’s because two recent fatal accidents involved vehicles leaving the road and hitting a 5-foot wide culvert, Dwight said.

“It shows us we need to do something,” he said.

Dwight said similar safety conversations are planned in reference to the stretch of highway near Mina.

Edmunds Sheriff Holtz said he has no doubt increased traffic and increased wild animal collisions factor into highway safety. With more animal crashes, Holtz said, drivers tend to slow down, which leads to bottlenecks along the highway.

“A four-lane highway is a tremendously good idea to help curb this and give room for error,” he said.

The DOT tracks traffic along U.S. Highway 12 and has counts for Walworth County west of Glenham and Brown County west of Groton, but no data specific to Edmunds County. Both of the other stretches show a predominant increase in traffic from 2014 to this year. Brown County traffic, at 2,400 to 3,400 vehicles per day, is about triple the Walworth County traffic of 760 to 1,200 vehicles per day, the statistics show.

Another option would be the addition of rumble strips along the center of the highway, Holtz said. That’s something he’s seen in Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota.

The recent increase in fatal accidents along U.S. Highway 12 has some officials perplexed.

“We’re not sure if it’s distracted driving or road conditions,” Brown County Chief Deputy Tom Schmidt said. “It’s got us all kinds of confused.”

___

Information from: Aberdeen American News, https://www.aberdeennews.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide