White-knuckle roads

| May 07, 2008

This year, as Pennsylvania’s I-80 segment placed second in the most-improved category, state lawmakers moved forward with a plan to toll the freeway under a federal pilot program allowing the tolling of existing interstates. Truckers balked, with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association joining NATSO and the local opposition to call for a denial of federal approval for the scheme, which was part of an attempt to increase highway revenues in the state to prevent a projected funding shortfall. One of the criteria for tolling approval under the pilot program requires tolling to be the only appropriate solution to highway maintenance or reconstruction. By delivering the compliment that was the second place ranking for most improved, survey respondents may have dealt the tolling effort a blow, as clear progress on the road has been made in recent years without tolls. Or not. Pennsylvania’s still second for worst roads overall.

Arkansas, too, has topped the list, and the way former governor Mike Huckabee explains it, Overdrive readers had a lot to do with his state government’s decision to raise the fuel tax to fund a massive interstate highway overhaul at the turn of the century. Of course, in his stump speech earlier this year he kept referring to the magazine as something called “Truckers’ Magazine” (detail must not be his strong suit). Regardless, the overhaul has at least partly worked. As in Pennsylvania, Arkansas’ I-40 and I-30 have been congratulated for significant improvement in recent years, but the state’s still in the top five for worst roads overall.

Intersections to Avoid
State Farm Insurance conducted a study based on auto accident claims between 1999 and 2000 and found these 10 intersections across the United States have the highest “danger index.” The danger index is determined by the number of crashes at intersections, their severity and the number that involved injury. It is adjusted to account for the percentage of vehicles insured by State Farm in areas where the intersections are located.

  1. Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

  2. Red Lion Road and Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia
  3. Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia
  4. Seventh Street and Bell Road, Phoenix
  5. 51st Street and Memorial Drive, Tulsa, Okla.
  6. 71st Street and Memorial Drive, Tulsa, Okla.
  7. 19th Avenue and Northern Avenue, Phoenix
  8. State Highway 121 and Preston Road, Frisco, Texas
  9. Clearwater Parkway and Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Metairie, La.
  10. Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue, Sacramento, Calif.

Bad, Bad Drivers
A big part of what makes a road dangerous is the skill – or lack thereof – of the drivers traveling it. Most over-the-road truckers have opinions about which states have the worst drivers. Florida comes up a lot in conversation.

But how do you prove which state has the worst drivers? One way to quantify truckers’ anecdotal experience is through driving test scores. For each of the past three years, GMAC Insurance has administered a 20-question driver’s test (taken from actual DMV tests) to licensed drivers between 16 and 65. The results? Between 6 and 11 percent of licensed drivers would fail the test if they had to retake it.

Northeastern states have consistently fared the worst on the test, while Northwestern states have the highest scores.

In 2007, the following 10 states had the worst average scores:

  1. New York

  2. New Jersey
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. Illinois
  8. Georgia
  9. West Virginia
  10. Louisiana

Take the test yourself at http://www.gmacinsurance.com/SafeDriving/.

GMAC’s results share quite a bit with the opinions of Truckers News’ sister publication Overdrive’s owner-operator readers. In the magazine’s annual Highway Report Card (see “Annual Owner-Operator Survey Ranks Troubled Roadways,” p. 28), it ranks not only road conditions but the quality of four-wheeler drivers by state. The results for 2007 follow.

  1. New York

  2. California
  3. Illinois
  4. Florida
  5. Texas
  6. New Jersey
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio
  9. Michigan
  10. Minnesota

Perilous Treks Around the World
The Association for Safe International Road Travel specializes in highlighting dangerous roads and areas so travelers will be safer, but the group hesitates to designate a top 10 list.

“While less dramatic, it is far more useful to travelers to have a comprehensive understanding of typical road conditions and driver behaviors in a particular country,” says Bonnie Ramsey, an ASIRT researcher. “Availability and quality of emergency medical care and seasonal travel conditions are also helpful to know.”

Some of the roads the organization has studied – and found lacking – are listed below.

The Old Yungas Road, Bolivia
This 50-mile mountainous road connects the cities of Coroico and La Paz and combines several dangerous driving conditions in one – hairpin curves; narrow stretches; eroding waterfalls; reckless drivers; and steep areas that plunge into a thick, road-obscuring fog. A new, safer road has been constructed, but the old one is still in use.

Grand Trunk Road, India to Afghanistan
Flooded with trucks, ox carts, animals, bicycles and pedestrians, this busy road was created in the 16th century to connect the major cities of India with those of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rudyard Kipling spoke of it this way: “such a river of life as exists nowhere else in the world.”

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