On a rainy afternoon in mid-July, the lives of three young men traveling from Augusta to Atlanta abruptly ended along a stretch of Interstate 20 just west of Thomson when their car hydroplaned, spinning unimpeded across the grassy median into the path of an eastbound tractor-trailer.
An avoidable tragedy - the most recent entry in a very sad chronicle of lives needlessly cut short along this and other Georgia highways.
If there had been cable barriers in the median that day, we'd be telling a different story. The car still would have hydroplaned and crashed, but in all likelihood it would have come to rest against the cables in the median, and these young men would have lived to share stories about their "near miss."
There is ample evidence demonstrating the value of these relatively inexpensive cable barriers in preventing cross-median accidents: much-less-violent crashes, fewer injuries and even fewer deaths. Just ask South Carolina. In a three-year period since three-strand cable barriers were installed along 314 miles of highway with narrow medians, 1,928 vehicles crossed into medians with the barriers. Of those, 1,913 were prevented from crossing the median, while only 15 vehicles - fewer than 1 percent - penetrated the cables. In other words, cable barriers were 99 percent effective in preventing cross-median crashes, dramatically reducing the death toll from this type of accident (according to the Federal Highway Administration).
North Carolina has had similar success. Between 1999 and 2003, the installation of cable barriers resulted in an estimated 90 percent reduction in cross-median crashes, 25 to 30 fewer fatalities and hundreds of injuries either prevented or greatly reduced in severity (FHWA).
Georgia has much to gain from appropriately placed cable barriers. Between 2000 and 2003, there were 2,268 interstate crossover accidents in our state, resulting in 1,560 injuries and 80 deaths. In just the last year, and closer to home, the section of I-20 passing through McDuffie, Warren and Taliaferro counties has seen multiple cross-median crashes, leaving six dead and at least nine injured (archives, The Augusta Chronicle).
As part of its Safety Action Plan for 2004-07, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to install cable barriers along 240 miles of divided freeways that have narrow, depressed medians and an accident history that stands to improve with barriers. Unfortunately, the stretch of highway where the three fatalities occurred earlier this month is not included in the initial phase of what we can only hope is a long-range plan to install these life-saving barriers throughout Georgia.
The DOT's cable-barriers initiative is expected to result in 43 fewer crashes, 21 fewer injuries and 21 fewer fatalities through 2007. If those numbers don't seem significant in the great scheme of improving highway safety, try looking at them from a different perspective: The family and friends who had to say goodbye to Tariq Fischer, Imran Khan and Mohammad Hassan understand all too well that even one preventable death is too many.
What are we waiting for?
Robert M. Clark, D.O.
CEO, Center for Primary Care
(Editor's note: Dr. Paul M. Fischer, father of Tariq Fischer, is a physician with the Center for Primary Care.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.