Top ten accident-prone intersections in rural Rock County

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, January 27, 2014

JANESVILLE—The rural Rock County intersection with the most crashes has stoplights, turn arrows, good sight lines and a separate left turn lane—virtually all the traffic safety innovations available.

Despite those features, the intersection of highways 14 and 51 north of Janesville was the site of 189 crashes, including one fatal crash, between 2000 and 2013. Many of the other rural Rock County intersections many crashes share similar safety features. 

Authorities say it's often not the intersection, it's the drivers.

The UW-Madison Transportation Information Center crunches accident data from around the state.

According to the center's analysis of crashes at rural Rock County intersections, the most crashes between 2000 and 2013 were at:

— Highway 14 and 51, town of Janesville, 189 crashes.

— County G and Highway 11, town of La Prairie, 168 crashes.

— County N and Highway 26, town of Milton, 146 crashes.

— Highway 51 and Highway 11, town of Rock, 117 crashes.

— County Q and Highway 51, town of Beloit, 80 crashes.

— County A and County H, town of Center, 79 crashes.

— County MM and Highway 14, town of Harmony, 51 crashes.

— County J and County O, town of La Prairie, 41 crashes.

— Highway 11/14 and Highway 140, town of Bradford, 38 crashes.

— County M and Highway 14, town of Bradford on the Rock-Walworth County line, 33 crashes.

Not surprisingly, the top 10 are some of the busiest intersections in the county.

Ryan Mayer, traffic safety engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said that crashes are measured per 1 million cars entering the intersection.

The state average for intersection crashes is one per 1 million cars entering the intersection.

Mayer crunched the crash numbers from 2000 to 2013 and discovered the average at highways 51 and 14 was at 1.89 per  million cars entering the intersection.

Rock County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jude Mauer said a turn arrow was added to the stoplights at the intersection several years ago, and that helped decrease crashes, but the change might not yet be reflected in the data.

The intersection with the most fatal crashes?

Highways 67 and 140 south of Clinton.

On the map, it appears to be out in the middle of nowhere, but Mauer said there's a significant amount of truck traffic on Highway 140.

The bypass effect

A few of the worst intersections in the county have fallen off the list because of the bypass around Milton. Highway 26 and N was the site of 146 crashes.

For years, county officials had warned motorists traveling west on County N about the dangers at the intersection. Rumble strips, flashing red lights and plenty of signs warned travelers. Still, accidents occurred on a regular basis.

In an interview after a particularly serious accident, sheriff's officials speculated that motorists on County N became impatient waiting for a break in Highway 26 traffic or misjudged how quickly northbound traffic was moving.

The bypass, which opened in 2013, replaced the intersection with an overpass and ramps.

The bypass also eliminated two intersections that were sites of fatal crashes. Highway 26 no longer intersects Bingham Road or Arthur Drive.

Mauer said the number of crashes on Highway 26 dropped significantly after the state expanded it to four lanes several years ago.

“There was a lot of access onto Highway 26 from side roads, and that ended when it went to four lanes.”

Fatal review

Each quarter, the Rock County Traffic Safety Commission meets to review fatal crashes.

The committee is made up of law enforcement officials, traffic engineers and community members.

For each fatal crash, investigators make a video of the intersection so committee members get a driver's view of the road, the signs, the sight lines and the hazards.

They review the accident investigation to learn about driver condition, road conditions, time of day and any other factors that might have contributed to the crash.

At a recent meeting, the committee reviewed a crash that killed three members of the same family. A Toyota Fit driven by an 18-year-old Sharon woman was northbound on Highway 140 when she entered the intersection at Highway 11/14 and collided with a pickup pulling a 35-foot trailer.

Investigation showed the driver of the Toyota either didn't stop or performed a rolling stop.

What happened?

Mauer said investigators might never know.

It was daylight, but the Toyota driver wasn't looking into the sun. The road was dry, the traffic signs weren't missing, and Highway 140 has rumble strips warning motorists they are approaching an intersection.

She might have been distracted by conversation.

She might have been reaching for a dial on the instrument panel, or she might have been on the phone.

Whatever the case, she didn't see the truck traveling west.

What about the intersection?

Drivers approach from the west after going through Emerald Grove, where the speed limit is 45 mph. Drivers pick up speed on the gentle slope going out of town, crest the hill and travel down toward the intersection.

Ryan Mayer, traffic safety engineer for the DOT, said motorists stopped at an intersection should be able to see approaching vehicles at least eight seconds before they reach the intersection. 

A driver stopped on Highway 140 at Highway 11/14 can see vehicles approaching from the east 14 seconds before they reach the intersection, Mayer said. From the west, the interval is even longer, he said.

Mayer gave the committee a collision diagram of the intersection showing the date, time weather conditions and probable causes for crashes from 2008 to 2013. Of the 12 crashes:

— Two were linked to alcohol use

— Three occurred when the pavement was icy or snow-covered.

— Six were at night.

— All but one were attributed to failure to stop or failure to yield.

After reviewing the information, Mayer recommended adding a stop sign on the other side of Highway 140.

Other committee members recommended installing larger stop signs and a larger double-sided arrow sign across from the intersection.

After analyzing the intersection, Mayer considered the human factor.

“Really no reason for anyone to run through that stop sign,” Mayer said. “With that being said, there are things we can do there.”

Mauer and other authorities agree: The most common cause of intersection crashes is what they refer to as “reduced alertness.” That can mean anything from reaching for a fast food bag to talking on a cellphone.  It also encompasses drunken- and drugged driving.

The formula for safety?

“In addition to being alert for yourself, do the same for other drivers,” Mauer said. “You can see their speed and the distance they have to break, and you know when it's not going to happen.”

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