Highway 30 Accidents: Speeding, the biggest culprit in county crashes | News | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

An examination of crash data between 2017 and 2021 of crashes on Highway 30 has revealed that the leading causes of accidents are speeding and following too closely, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). 

Between April and September of 2023, The Chronicle reported on four separate accidents on Highway 30 that resulted in five deaths. In light of those incidents, The Chronicle reached out to ODOT to find what the leading causes of crashes are and what the department is doing to try and promote safety and minimize accidents.  

ODOT does not have preliminary data on crashes yet for 2022 or 2023. However, ODOT Communications Representative David House provided complete data for the five-year period of 2017 through 2021. The two sets of data provided include traffic accidents in Columbia County as a whole and data from the stretch of Highway 30 from St. Helens North City Limit to Clatskanie East City Limit. 

“I don’t see a trend in this data, but no matter what the figures are year to year, everyone’s goal is to make the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities go down. Anecdotally, we sense that the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities are up – not just in Oregon but nationwide,” House said. 

Without the data for 2022 and 2023, it is difficult to discern whether fatalities have risen in recent years. From 2017 to 2021, ODOT recorded ten fatalities on Highway 30 between St. Helens and Clatskanie. The most fatalities in a year was four in 2019. House said that in Oregon as a whole, a major part of the increase in fatalities appears to be vehicle-pedestrian crashes.

“This appears to be an effect of more people being closer to traffic or in areas of highway right-of-way where pedestrians and camping are not allowed – because it puts people in danger,” House said.

One of the main factors that ODOT has observed as a recurring issue is that people have been driving at high speeds since the pandemic. 

“Although speed alone doesn’t cause a crash, it makes it more likely to happen and more severe,” House said. “At higher speeds, drivers have less time to react, and it takes longer to stop or evade a surprise on the road. Higher speeds make it more likely for a crash to happen that could have been avoided or turn a fender-bender into an injury crash and to make a bad crash a fatal crash.”

Between 2017 and 2021, on the stretch of Highway 30 between St. Helens and Clatskanie, ODOT recorded 371 crashes during those five years. The leading cause of crashes was speeding, with 109 crashes as a result. The second leading cause was following too closely, which resulted in 82 crashes during that same span. 

Looking at ODOT data for Columbia County during that same period, there were 1759 crashes. Speeding was again the top cause, accounting for 521 accidents, with following too closely as the second leading cause again with 367 crashes. Failure to yield was the third leading cause, with 353 accidents.  

“We included crash causes for that stretch of highway and Columbia County as a whole, and excessive speed tops both. It’s important to note that excessive speed amplifies the impact of other factors – following too close, failure to yield, etc,” House said. 

Of the 1759 crashes, speeding, following too closely, and failure to yield accounted for 1,241 of the crashes from 2017 until 2021. It’s possible that speeding played a part in each of the categories, as House alluded to. 

One trend that ODOT noted in recent years is that distracted driving is resulting in more accidents on a state and national level. On the aforementioned stretch of Highway 30, driver inattention accounted for 32 accidents, and on the county level, driver inattention was responsible for 151 crashes. 

“Our Area 1 Manager, Mark Buffington, said that excessive speed and distracted driving have been significant factors on U.S. 30 crashes in recent years – reflecting the national trend,” House said.    

In a community poll on The Chronicle’s website that asked whether people were concerned with driver safety on Highway 30, one hundred percent of respondents answered yes, a reflection of the community being troubled about accidents.

House said that ODOT is trying to address driver safety issues in a variety of ways. Some are engineering changes to promote driver safety, like basic maintenance of pavement, signs, striping, reflectors, guardrails, signals, lighting, and other infrastructure. Others involve federally funded message campaigns on speeding, DUI, distracted/drowsy driving, seat belt use reminders, etc. 

ODOT also has incident response crews stationed across the state to respond to crashes along with law enforcement and medical teams. Those crews direct traffic around crash sites and repair any damage to highway safety infrastructure.

“In addition to statewide projects such as pedestrian crossing, bicycle safety, and ADA curb/pedestrian crossing improvements, this year we have done some work on visibility for drivers: refreshed striping on U.S. 30 in September, replaced reflectors on delineators, and cleaned signs and delineators,” House said. “Those are important safety features for driving at night and other low-light conditions.”

House said that ODOT keeps comprehensive data in order to identify problem areas and find solutions. The causes of a “problem area” can vary.   

“Usually something changes in local traffic, traffic volume exceeds the capacity of a location built decades ago, new development changes traffic pattern and volume, etc. We can identify those changes and work toward the engineering side,” House said. “In this sense, this stretch of highway does not stand out but is unfortunately reflecting the national trend in speeding and crashes.”

While ODOT is working to try and address issues with driver safety on Highway 30 and around the state, House said the drivers themselves have an important role to play in keeping themselves, their passengers, and those they are sharing the road with safe. 

• Slow down for road and traffic conditions

• Never use a phone or other mobile device while driving

• Never drive impaired or drowsy

• Always use your safety belts and child safety seats

• Watch for wildlife such as deer and elk when driving on highways going through their habitat 

House said it’s especially important in winter conditions as the days get shorter, and the roads get wet and potentially icy. 

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