Wider and straighter would seem to make for a safer road. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for Warwick roads with the greatest number of accidents.
On average, there are between 4,800 and 5,000 automobile crashes in Warwick annually according to statistics provided by the state Department of Transportation.
And looking at statistics provided by Warwick Police, with the exception of 2009, the number of Warwick accidents is on the decline.
“Warwick consistently has the highest number behind Providence,” says Robert Rocchio, managing engineer of state traffic at the Department of Transportation. Providence records between 500 and 800 more accidents annually.
The majority of Warwick accidents, it stands to reason, occur on the city’s most heavily traveled roads. Likewise, intersections and areas of high traffic movements, like a retail outlet, are frequent sites for accidents.
An area renowned for accidents – largely fender benders without serious injury or property damage – is the Route 37 off ramps to Post Road. Warwick Police believe this may be a result of the design of the intersections that have motorists looking to their left to view oncoming traffic and failing to see the vehicle in front of them that has come to a stop.
But also, it seems, those roads designed to give motorists ample time to react with wide and straight lanes have high levels of accidents.
Rocchio said studies show drivers take greater risks on such roads, increasing speed and taking chances such as passing on the right that result in accidents. He also believes drivers pay less attention on such roads allowing themselves to be distracted.
“The road seems to be safer than it is,” he said.
“It’s perceived as a routine task,” Rocchio said of driving, “but actually it is a very complicated task. It’s not as easy as you think and people become automatic.”
His point is that distractions play a significant role in causing accidents.
Col. Stephen McCartney agrees that driver attention, or rather the lack thereof, is a big factor in accidents. Four lane highways, higher speeds and conditions where there are multiple turns are also factors.
While there are no studies showing the overall level of Warwick traffic, McCartney doesn’t believe it has subsided in recent years and, if anything, has increased. Remarkably, and he doesn’t have an explanation why, traffic accidents have declined steadily since 2005 when there were 5,950. The exception is 2009 where the total was 4,908, up from 4,774 in 2008. Last year the total was 4,449 and so far this year the numbers are down again. As of Tuesday, 2,512 had been recorded as compared to 2,604 for the same period in 2010.
The roads with the greatest number of accidents are consistently the same. They are Centerville Road with 135 accidents as of July 26; West Shore Road, 193; Warwick Avenue, 236; Bald Hill Road, 327 and Post Road, 385. Collectively, those five roads account for 949, or 38 percent, of the accidents that have occurred so far this year. Yet two roads, also high volume roads and two of the city’s major east-west arteries, have fewer than 100 accidents each for the same period. Eighty-two accidents were recorded on Airport Road and 60 on Main Avenue.
Sgt. Eric Falcofsky, one of the four officers in the traffic division, agrees there is something to the premise that wide, straight roads offer a sense of security and result in an increase in risk taking whether speeding or not being as attentive to driving.
“People get comfortable with their surroundings and let themselves get distracted,” he said.
Falcofsky, who handles one or two accidents daily, attributes most accidents to driver negligence, distraction, impatience and driving under the influence. Factors contributing to negligence and distraction he listed as cell phones, the radio and the actions of passengers. He has issued summons for texting, which was recently outlawed while driving by state legislators.
The department has a no tolerance policy for driving under the influence, as demonstrated by the 166 DUI arrests made so far this year. As Chief McCartney observes, alcohol, most of the time, is a factor in accidents involving fatalities and serious injuries.
Weather can be a wildcard.
Falcofsky said there were more than 80 accidents when the December storm of two years ago dumped heavy snow on evening commuters. Key intersections in the city, including Greenwood Bridge, Love Lane and Cowesett, Long Street and West Shore Road and other hilly areas quickly became impassable. Plows and sanders weren’t able to get through and conditions worsened. Accidents escalated.
The state is looking at introducing calming measures on Jefferson Boulevard south of Coronado Street by reducing the road from four to three lanes. Rocchio said, with the Interlink and the potential development of office and retail space and more hotels in the area, more pedestrian traffic is projected. A three-lane road with a middle lane for left turns would slow traffic and give pedestrians fewer lanes to cross and allow for bicycle lanes.
City Planner William DePasquale would want to ensure changes in Jefferson Boulevard would not impede redevelopment on the road. Also, he believes the number of road cuts serving businesses has an impact on accidents and that is a contributing factor to the volume of accidents on Bald Hill Road as well as Post and West Shore Roads and Warwick Avenue.
The state is also looking at how to improve the safety of crosswalks. Systems and devices being reviewed are signals that only light up when activated and would have a flashing red light; an in-road sign that would cause motorists to slow and pay greater attention to the walkway, bump-outs that cause a narrowing of the road and give pedestrians a better view of traffic and an in-pavement lighting system that would be activated by pedestrians.
Councilman John DelGiudice, D-Ward 5, who runs a freight hauling business, suggests painting crosswalks as a low cost means of enhancing their visibility. He has seen that done in other communities and says the walks are far more apparent.
DelGiudice has doubled his efforts to improve crosswalk safety since Eleanor Fisher, a Meadowbrook Terrace resident, was struck and killed on the Warwick Avenue crosswalk in front of the housing complex. Police determined the driver in that case was not speeding and simply did not see either that the stoplight had been activated or Fisher.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said he has been questioned about improving the safety of the Meadowbrook crosswalk. He notes that being a state road, the city cannot act unilaterally. And even with changes, he can’t vouch for what that will mean.
“What do you do to get people to pay more attention to what they are doing?” he asks.
Falcofsky’s suggestion is that motorists heed the lessons they learned in driving school. On the top of his list is to slow down and “pay attention to what you’re doing.”