Posted 10/13/15 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
For three straight years, McKenzie County has had the dubious distinction of having the deadliest roadways in North Dakota. That distinction is not something that McKenzie County can take pride in.
As of the end of September, 14 people had died in motor vehicle accidents in McKenzie County. And with three months to go in 2015, one has to wonder just how many more people will die on state and county roadways in the county.
Prior to the completion of the four-laning of U.S. Highway 85 from Watford City to Williston, part of the blame for all of the accidents that were occurring was a direct result of the unsafe driving conditions on that 50-mile stretch of highway. U.S. Highway 85 was never intended to be seeing the level of traffic that it was receiving at the height of the oil boom. And with the large oilfield trucks making up the bulk of the 18,000-plus vehicles that were using that two-lane highway a day, any accident involving a semi truck and any other motor vehicle was bound to involve serious bodily injury, if not a fatality.
But, U.S. Highway 85 is no longer the death trap that is once was. Although, there are those that still question the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s decision not to make the highway a divided four-lane, it is nonetheless a much safer roadway than it once was.
Likewise, the NDDOT and McKenzie County have spent millions of dollars making the other heavily traveled roadways safer.
So why does McKenzie County still lead North Dakota in the number of highway fatalities?
The answer, once you have eliminated unsafe roads, unfortunately rests on the driver(s) of the vehicles.
And the statistics from those accidents that resulted in fatalities in McKenzie County bears that out.
According to the NDDOT, as of the end of September of 2015, nearly 25 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in McKenzie County were alcohol-related. And approximately 50 percent of the accident victims were not wearing their seat belt. Five of the victims were wearing their seat belts, six were unbelted, while it was not known if seat belts were being worn in two of the motor vehicle fatalities.
What are two of the fundamental rules of driving everyone is taught when they prepare to receive their driver’s license? One, don’t drink and drive. And two, wear your seat belt. Those are common sense rules. Yet when drivers choose to drink and drive or not wear their seat belts, they are not only increasing the chance of them being involved in an accident, they are also increasing the chances that those accidents will result in a fatality.
Other major causes of accidents in McKenzie County? You can probably guess the answers, but they include distracted driving (cell phone use), exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for the road conditions, inappropriate passing, and failure to yield or stop for oncoming traffic.
In what has become a daily occurrence in and around McKenzie County, the police departments, fire departments and ambulance services are being called out to a highway accident. Fortunately, not all of them involve a fatality. But enough of them do.
And with winter just around the corner, unless drivers make a change in their driving behavior, the number of motor vehicle accidents that involve fatalities is bound to increase.
So do yourself and everyone on the highways a favor, follow these simple rules:
• Follow the posted speed limits and drive appropriately for the road conditions.
• Make sure that you and passengers are wearing seat belts.
• Don’t drink and drive.
• Put your cell phone in a place that you can’t reach it. If you must talk on your cell phone, use a hand-free device. And if you must text, pull off the roadway.
• Don’t pass in “no passing zones.”
• Come to a complete stop at all stop signs and look for oncoming traffic.
Sound like common sense rules? They are. And by following them, we can all make our roadways a whole lot safer.