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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Guest Column: A Highway of Death

Over the past few years, there have been serious accidents at nearly every intersection between Mitchell and Judah on State Road 37 in Lawrence County. The north and southbound lanes are dotted with roadside memorials. Hardly a month goes by without a report of a major accident, if not a fatality.

Photo: A Bedford man was killed at the intersection of Indiana State Road 37 and John Williams Blvd

S.R. 37 is a four-lane divided highway almost all the way through the county. All along the route, visibility is clear in both directions and all major intersections have traffic lights. If the data reflected that traffic accidents were occurring only at places where there were no signals, I could almost understand the statistics, but that is not the case. Accidents continue to occur at major intersections with traffic signals, including Judah, 54/58, Oolitic, 5th Street, the JWB, 16th Street, PRW, 29th Street, and HWY 60. One must question why this trend is becoming the norm.

Photo: Numerous accidents have occurred in Mitchell

With working traffic signals and clear visibility, aside from occasional foggy conditions, the cause is obvious: inattentive, aggressive, negligent, and reckless driving are to blame.

I frequently commute to Indianapolis and have observed a lot of bad driving over the past two decades. With each passing year, courteous drivers are fewer and farther between. Aggressive driving is on the rise statewide, including incidents resulting in gunfire or gunplay, which struck too close to home just this past week.

While I-69 has made things better in Monroe and Morgan counties, S.R. 37 south of I-69 is not up to interstate standards, but drivers treat it as if it were. Unfortunately, Road Ragers behind the wheel is now the norm.

I am not an advocate of adding more stoplights along S.R. 37. Clearly, signals at existing intersections are not doing their job, so adding more would do nothing, and would, in fact, likely increase road rage.

Some intersections could be tweaked, for example, by adding flashing yellow turn signals as other communities have done. This is not an option at every intersection, especially where visibility is less than ideal, but where it makes sense it should be considered. At 16th Street and JWB, I often sit in the southbound turn lane waiting for the light to change when there is no northbound traffic.

Photos: Turn arrows and flashing turn arrows cause confusion to some motorists

A flashing yellow would eliminate that problem.

Simply changing the traffic signal, or even passing a law is not the answer. Indiana is now a “hands free” state and prohibits using cellular devices while driving. Indiana also recently added the passing lane law which requires slower drivers to use the driving lane instead of remaining in the passing lane for miles.

These were both welcomed changes in the law, but unenforced laws on the books become ineffective.

Why, for example, do aggressive drivers tailgate vehicles in the driving lane when all they have to do is use the passing lane and pass the slower driver? Because they are speeding, do not want to get caught, and want to push the slower car to go faster and risk the ticket. You cannot have it both ways: Slow drivers have to move over, but faster drivers also need to pass. It is just as annoying to someone driving at the speed limit to have a tailgater when it is clear to pass as it is to have someone camped out in the passing lane when they are not turning and it is clear to move over. Moreover, excessive speeding is the norm on S.R. 37.

These are all good examples were having a law on the books alone is insufficient to

deter bad driving.

What would be more effective to reduce the upward trend in fatalities is, unfortunately, aggressive enforcement by state and local law enforcement at times when aggressive drivers are active, including early mornings and late afternoons. I see plenty of out-of-state and out-of-county drivers racing through the county, to work or home, but there are just as many in-county residents who do the same.

The only way to stop the trend is to step up enforcement.

I strongly support our local law enforcement and was disgusted over the recent traffic stop which sent two of our heroes to the hospital via lifeline. Thank God they survived. Despite these risks, stepped-up enforcement will be the most effective resolution to change this upward trend. Until drivers learn to obey existing traffic laws, we are all at risk of being the next victim of bad driving on the Highway of Death.

This guest column was written by Joby Jerrells.

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