Fatal crash highlights traffic trends

Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 11:44 p.m.
Ann Bevilacqua of Glorizia, an Italian restaurant, in Worthington Springs put this sign in front of her restaurant on State Road 121 Friday. "I need to make a statement, I can't take it anymore," said Bevilacqua. She says the trucks drive by so fast that they rattle the windows of her home and restaurant.--()
The fatal crash in Union County earlier this week involving a school bus, a passenger car and a tractor-trailer was evidence of recent transportation trends - more semis are licensed in Florida than ever before, overall traffic on rural roads is increasing and traffic fatalities are more likely to happen on rural roads than on interstates.
Union County's crash happened Wednesday on State Road 121 when a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a car that had stopped behind a school bus. All seven youngsters in the car were killed and several children on the school bus and the bus driver were injured. The crash area was on rural, two-lane, paved highway.
In March, a Washington D.C. nonprofit transportation issues think-tank - The Road Information Program - issued a report that showed overall travel on rural roads rose 27 percent between 1990 and 2002. The report also said travel on rural roads was up 32 percent by large commercial trucks over the same time period.
Florida had 736,798 tractor-trailers registered in 2005, up from 469,161 in 2000, according to Frank Penela, a spokesman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
The Florida Trucking Association predicts the number will continue increasing, according to association President Philip Abraira.,
"We anticipate that the number of tractors that will be added in Florida is totally dependent on growth of economy of the state, so as the economy grows, so will the transportation requirements," Abraira said.
Meanwhile, The Road Information Program researchers determined that traffic fatality rates are 2.5 times higher on rural roads than on all other roads. And, Florida is among the five states with the highest rate of traffic fatalities per 100 million miles traveled as well as being among the five states with the largest number of rural, noninterstate traffic fatalities.
To reduce rural highway traffic deaths, the report made several recommendations, including widening roads by paving shoulders, installing bumper strips to alert drivers to upcoming stop signs and installing turn lanes.
Gina Busscher, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said Florida has received federal funding to make improvements on rural roads with crash rates for fatalities or incapacitating injuries that were above state averages.
"State Road 121 did not qualify," Busscher said. "It was last resurfaced in 2002 when paved shoulders were added but that would not have helped in this accident."
In North Florida, the only rural road now scheduled for improvements under the federal program is U.S. 19 between Inglis and Chiefland. Busscher said 5-foot-wide, paved shoulders are scheduled to be put in along the 35-mile stretch over the next three years.
Another trend involved in the crash is the growing popularity of single-serve water bottles - the cargo being hauled by the tractor-trailer.
Gary Hemphill of Beverage Marketing Corp. said Americans drank 6.8 billion gallons of bottled water in 2004. By volume, water is second only to carbonated beverages and is growing in popularity each year. Although the corporation does not track truckloads of water, Hemphill said they do have general information about how single serve water is delivered.
"The number of additional trucks may not be as big as . . . you might imagine," Hemphill said. "We track bottled water consumption and we know that a lot of the water is shipped on beverage trucks with other products carrying things like fruit drinks or teas or carbonated soft drinks."
Hemphill said that as sales of carbonated beverages have softened over the past five years, single serving sales of water increased.
"In some respects it is switching out - soft drinks for water," Hemphill said. "While the market is growing, it is not making quantum leaps and bounds. It appears to be primarily driven by population and is increasing proportionally."

Tractor-trailers registered in Florida

  • 2005 -736,798.

  • 2000 - 469,161.

    Traffic fatality rates nationwide

  • 2.5 times higher on rural roads than all other roads.
  • 2.72 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel on rural roads.
  • 0.99 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on non-rural roads.

    Florida is one of the top five states with

  • Highest rate of traffic fatalities.
  • Largest number of rural, non-interstate traffic fatalities.
    Sources: Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, The Road Information Program
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