Road safety questioned following student's death

September 17, 2011 4:32:42 AM PDT
One day following the death of a Duke University student in a car crash, new questions are being asked about the curve where the crash happened.

Police say alcohol and speed were the main factors, but a review of past data shows there have been other fatalities on the same stretch of road.

The speed limit along the stretch of Academy Drive is 35 mph. However, ABC11 Eyewitness News clocked drivers going 40 and 46 mph. In many of those instances, drivers were dangerously close to the edge of the road.

"People do tend to just drive over, drift over the line," cyclist Anthony Weston said.

Weston travels along the Academy Drive curve on his way to Duke, and he knows it's risky as cars speed past him.

"They tend to drive as fast as they can get away with," he said. "This feels like it's out of town -- it isn't really, but it feels like it. They're just hanging over the line, coming along, not really caring too much about it."

While data shows most wrecks along the stretch have nothing to do with running off the road, there's not a large shoulder. There's a narrow bike lane and then there's woods.

North Carolina Department of Transportation Engineer Wally Bowman says because of Thursday's fatality, "We'll go back and look at it. See if there's anything else we can do."

Part of Bowman's job is to study roads and help make them as safe as possible.

"It was excessive speed through here," he explained. "We're not gonna be able to design anything when you look at speeds that were attributed to this accident."

Most drivers ABC11 spoke to agree the speed limit in the area is appropriate.

However, the margin of error is small but there are no plans to add any new safety features at this time.

"I'd say that's a pretty safe road, and we need to move on to other roads to see where we have those big problems for improvements," Bowman added.

Drivers told ABC11 the road itself isn't unsafe. It's the drivers who get a little too close to the edge.

Some want more safeguards like guardrails that might keep a car from hitting a tree or landing in the ravine.

Bowman says it's not practical on a road that's seen 17 off-road crashes in the last six years. Other than Thursday's wreck, none of them were fatal.

"We typically look for a lot higher percentage of run-off-the-road accidents in a ravine hitting a tree before we look at installing a guardrail," he said.

Bowman advises drivers to slow down, don't drink and drive, and pay attention.

"And that includes your other distractions such as your cell phones, texting, talking on your cell phone," he said. "Those are distractions regardless of the speed limit.

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