By Randy Mitchell
ADA — Oklahoma Highway Patrol officials are releasing information to alert motorists of county road dangers.
OHP Troop F Commander Ronnie Hampton said there is a big difference between crashing a vehicle on state or United States highways versus county roads. He said state highways are normally constructed to make crashes safer for motorists.
“For the past eight years, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has cleared back trees and other hard objects from the sides of U.S. and state highways,” Hampton said. “The state highway department realized that when a vehicle leaves the road at highway speeds, if trees, power poles and other fixed objects are adjacent to the highway, very severe traffic collisions occurred.”
Hampton said with county roads, there is usually no clearing back of trees, power poles, metal fences and fixed objects. When a vehicle leaves a county road, within a few feet it will strike trees, fences, bridges and other fixed objects.
“These stiff, rigid objects cause severe deformity to the vehicle and the mechanism of injury is usually severe or fatal, especially when a safety belt isn’t used,” he said.
Hampton said if a county road is paved, people have a false sense of security because they think it’s OK to drive faster than the posted speed limit. He said due to budgetary constraints, paved county roads are usually in poorer condition than highways and are unsafe at higher speeds.
“Running 79 (miles per hour) in a 70 (mile-per-hour zone) may not be anywhere close to as dangerous as running 54 in a 45 on a county road,” Hampton said.
He said if a speed limit is set at 70 miles per hour, it will be on a state or U.S. highway with all the safety features in place, such as impact-absorbing bridge guard rails, attenuator sand barrels at bridge pillars and rumble strips to alert drivers if they drift off the road.
“If you actually do leave the road, usually the right-of-way fence is 50 or 60 feet from the road and there’re no trees,” Hampton said. “If you strike a highway sign, those highway signs have breakaway fracture energy at the base, so generally at 10 miles per hour (or over), you’re going to break that thing off at the base and your car won’t wrap around it.”
Hampton said more and more county roads are being hard surfaced with asphalt or a chip/seal mixture.
“This causes motorists to drive highway speeds and feel safe in doing so,” he said. “However, county roads are not banked like a state highway. The edges usually have severe drop-offs, bridges don’t have barrier protection and metal fences are within feet of the driving surface.
“There is no room for error when driving on county roads. A vehicle driving 55 miles per hour is traveling 80.63 feet every second that vehicle is in motion.”
In 2011, Troop F, which covers seven counties in south-central Oklahoma including Pontotoc, investigated 455 wrecks on county roads. Pontotoc County was second only to Garvin County for the highest rate of collisions.
Garvin County had 107; Pontotoc County, 104; Carter County, 83; Marshall County, 52; Love County, 47; and Murray County, 34. Johnston County had the least amount of county road collisions with 28.
In 2011, 16 people were killed on county roads, and all 16 involved a single vehicle that struck a fixed object or overturned. Only two drivers wore safety belts, and the other 14 did not, Hampton said.
“The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is staffed to provide visibility on interstates, U.S. and state highways,” Hampton said. “We don’t have the manpower to provide a visibility on the nearly 8,000 miles of county roads inside the Troop F area. We absolutely must have the public’s help in understanding the dangers that can be present on county roads.”
There are 898 miles of county roads in Pontotoc County. Last year, 54.03 percent of all collisions in Troop F were one-vehicle collisions, in which a single vehicle left the roadway and overturned or struck a fixed object such as a power pole, bridge abutment or tree. In the majority of one-vehicle county road collisions, safety belts are not worn, Hampton said.
Last year, 31.35 percent of the 1,451 collisions investigated in the seven-county Troop F area occurred on county roads.
• Encouraging safety
Hampton said the Oklahoma Highway Patrol encourages all drivers on county roads to:
• Wear a safety belt. There is no time to buckle up when the vehicle leaves the roadway.
• Obey the speed limit. Although a county road may seem as safe as the state highways, the safety measures of clearing back obstructions from the road haven’t occurred. Striking trees and fixed objects at highway speeds can cause severe injuries and death.
• Pay attention. Crashes on county roads are generally one-vehicle crashes where the driver was distracted for only a second, but that second can change a life forever.