THE COUNTRY LIFE: Do drivers become complacent on rural roads?

By Bill Radford Published: October 5, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Twice a day, driving to and from work, I pass through the intersection and think of the two lives lost there.

On May 6, Adolfo and Pamela Narvarte were killed when a tow truck slammed into their Ford F-150 at Garrett and Meridian roads in Falcon, east of Colorado Springs; the tow-truck driver, who was injured in the crash, failed to heed a stop sign at the two-way stop, the Colorado State Patrol said.

The Narvartes had been headed east on Garrett and the tow-truck driver was going south on Meridian. I drove through the intersection not long after the early evening accident and could tell it had been a bad one - how bad I didn't know until the next day.

The accident served to further my wife's fears about driving on rural roads; she had worried about such intersections since we moved to the country last year. It's not like we didn't see people run stop signs and stop lights in the city; in fact, we routinely saw drivers blow through a stop light just a couple of blocks from our home and were always amazed. Did they not see the light or did they just not care?

One difference on the county roads is speed. The speed limit on the main roads in my area is 45 mph, but many drivers are clearly used to driving faster than that. So if your car is hit, it can be disastrous.

There was, however, no evidence of excessive speed in the May accident, said Capt. Chuck Cargin of the State Patrol, and drugs and alcohol were not involved. It was apparently a matter, he said, of inattentiveness; the tow-truck driver was charged with careless driving causing death.

It's fears about such inattentiveness that has my wife warily watching vehicles on the cross streets as we approach intersections on the rural roads.

There is "relatively low traffic volume" on those roads, said El Paso County engineer Andre Brackin; a driver might go several miles without seeing a fellow motorist.

As a result, he said, "I believe drivers, especially young drivers, have a tendency to become complacent."

According to State Patrol records, there was one accident at Garrett and Meridian in 2011 and three in 2012; 2013 was accident-free there until the May accident. One of those accidents involved a DUI, Cargin said, but he attributed the others to inattentive driving.

"Five accidents in that amount of time, it doesn't make that out to be a big bad spot," Cargin said.

Most of the accidents Brackin has heard of at the intersection involved a driver running the stop sign while going south on Meridian, as with the tow-truck driver. While there is "a pretty substantial hill" going southbound on Meridian just before Garrett, sight distance is still fine, he said. Signage at the intersection has been updated since the accident, he said, to meet changing standards on things such as reflectivity and letter size. The traffic volume at the intersection, he said, "is not even close" to warranting a stop light there.

In addition to driver complacency, Brackin warned of another risk on lonely rural roads.

"Rural road shoulders are probably the most dangerous component of the roadway," he said. The width of many of the roads is 24 feet or less of pavement, while the shoulders are often fairly steep and narrow, making it less likely for drivers to recover if they head off the roadway.

"One of the major cautions I tell people driving out here or on any narrow, rural roads, if you lose control or a tire catches that edge, it could be a very dangerous situation."

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Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes three horses, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.

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