Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beauty and Death at Fancy Gap

Did you hear about the horrible trafficpileups on I-77 near Galax, Virginia on Easter Sunday in dense fog? 17 separate crashes, 95 involved vehicles three dead, 25 or so injured.  These types of chain collision accidents are always so chilling because there is little you can do if you are caught in the middle.

Two cars collided with the same tractor/trailer; the drivers of both cars died.  One other car rearended a tractor/trailer and the driver of that car died.

We like to think we are in control when we are driving.  But the truth is, we aren't quite in as much control as we think. 

My spouse and I are a bit familiar with that stretch of road in the area bordering North Carolina and Virginia.  It's the route we take when we travel to or from North or South Carolina or Georgia,  and it's the route we took three weeks ago when we came back home from Florida.    

When we traveled into the mountains of Virginia on I-77 for thev first time going south (in March of 2010) it almost took my breath away, it was so beautiful.  We stop at Mt. Airy, NC for the night (Andy Griffith's birthplace) and then make the push south, or the push north.   I-77 is beautiful, but I never realized how deadly. 

Two years ago we experienced that fog and it's awful.  There are large warning signs in several places warning of fog danger.  The danger comes at any time of day - the crashes started being reported at 1:17 p.m. 

For all we do to make cars safer, you only can engineer human behavior so much.  And the scary part?  This isn't the first chain collision between mile markers 4 and 7 on I-77.  Or the second.  Or the third, or the fourth.

It is at least the 6th since 1997, many with fatalities.

This was only the biggest one, vehicle-wise, but another had 75 cars,another had 56 cars, and the list goes on.  I think we can call this a "pattern".

(Gee, I'm glad I didn't know about the history of that stretch of road until today.)

So what is the solution? 

It's easy to say people can't drive too fast for conditions. EVER.  People underestimate how much their vision is impaired in fog.  I lived in Florida for two winters back in the 1970's.  Morning fog is common there so I do speak from experience. 

Then you can say, those warning signs aren't roadside decorations!  Neither are stop signs, curve ahead signs, or any other kind of warning sign.  Folks?

And - how many drivers nowadays drive distracted - texting, talking on the phone, and so on?  But some of these crashes date from years back.

Tractor/trailers on the road? Some would blame them.  I wasn't at any of the collisions (thank heavens) so can't speak to that.

Can this road be engineered to reduce the incidents of fog crashes?  I hope there is a solution, because I-77 is an important north-south road through the Appalachians.   

In the meantime -  you can never let your guard down, even on a beautiful stretch of highway.  Ever.

Do you have a super-dangerous stretch of road where you live?


  1. Hi Alana... I live in Southern California. With that said, most of our roads are pretty much on the dangerous side. Speed limit on the freeways average 65 to 70. High speeds + freeways = accidents. Doesn't matter if there is fog or not.

    We have some dangerous side roads in the area - but I avoid them at all costs.

    The Virginia accident was surely a tragedy. People need to drive with common sense. Slow down - cuz not getting there is worse than getting there late.

    Eydie :)

    1. I totally agree. I suspect excessive speed was the main cause of one of the initial accidents- and then physics took over. So sad.

  2. When my dad taught each of us kids to drive, he would say over and over "You are driving a two-ton bullet, and it's even more dangerous than a bullet out of a gun, because you can kill lots of people with it if you're not very careful." I've always thought about that, and I encourage my own kids with the same message. It may seem overkill, but you can't be too careful when so many factors are out of your control.

    1. No, what your father taught you wasn't overkill. It was truth! He was a wise man and you were wise for teaching that same lesson to the next generation. We taught that to our son, too, when he learned to drive.

  3. I live in a small town - we don't even have traffic lights! But there is dangerous stretch of road through the desert and a few years ago a bus went over the edge :( The driver was overtaking another bus and misjudged the width. Some accidents are obviously caused by driver error, but it seems to be just bad luck that some people get involved - or is it?

    1. Sometimes it is just being in the wrong place at the wrong time - that is one chilling accident you describe.

  4. Interstate 64 over Afton Mountain has had similar problems. It's also in Virginia and connects Richmond to Staunton. Sometimes VDOT closes I-64 when the fog gets really bad. The state has done studies on I-64 and I-77 and has made some improvements such as warning lights and lane lights but when the fog happens suddenly, the situation is very dangerous.

    I was caught in the fog on I-64 once. We got off at at exit on top of the mountain and found it was even scarier because suddenly we couldn't see the side of the road. I slowed way down and prayed that no truck came up behind me going fast! Whew!

    1. There are few things as scary as a fog where you can't see. I suppose the Easter Sunday incident hit home because we had been on this stretch of road (hundreds of miles from where we live) just mere weeks before. But these kinds of collisions are never far from my mind if we hit heavy fog. I know someone who commutes from Syracuse to Binghamton (New York) to her job, and hits that kind of fog several times a year.

  5. Great post. Driving respectfully with due care and attention appears to be something that happened in the 70's and 80's in the UK. People should be made to get in simulators to see what the consequences of their actions are. It might deter them !!

  6. You bring up a lot of legit concerns and contributing factors to such horrible instances. I feel drivers are the key to this. If you can't see, for Pete's sake, CRAWL along. No destination is worthy dying to get there. It will be still be there in hours or days.


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