It seems every town has a stretch of road with a reputation worse than Amy Winehouse and a Dateline NBC-worthy nickname. Inspired by tragedy, locals flood city halls with complaints about their own “Deadman’s Curve,” “Route of Ruin,” or “Parkway of Peril,” demanding more stop signs and lower speed limits as statistics show drivers need to slow down, buckle up and stay sober. The folks at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Excellence in Rural Safety have a nifty website called SafeRoadMaps.org that lets drivers and worrywarts alike discover whether their hometown’s danger zones are worthy of the full Stone Phillips treatment.
While the site provides reams of regional and statewide statistics about seatbelt and alcohol laws, by far the most morbid coolest feature is the “Safe Street Map.” Combining Google Earth and federal traffic safety statistics, the Google Earth mashup map lets drivers read up on traffic fatalities near just about any address in the United States, each marked with its own pin. “When you can visually see how many lives can be saved, it really changes how the public and policy makers see our roads,” said CERS Director Lee Munnich.
There is something stunning about seeing road fatalities mapped out on familiar routes, proving that cold hard statistics can drive a point home more effectively than any pre-prom MADD assembly.
SafeRoadMaps.org is geared toward rural drivers, who tend to cover longer distances at higher speeds. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 57 percent of highway deaths take place on country roads, proving they are far more dangerous than any John Denver song suggests. When a user clicks on a marker representing an individual fatality, a pop-up box provides the cause of the accident and the age of the driver. Not surprisingly, a search of your faithful blogger’s daily commute turned up several fatalities, most of them involving young people, speeding, alcohol, and unbuckled seatbelts.
CERS says the site is meant to teach people to “make sensible adjustments” to their daily commutes. That, in turn, could result in fewer markers on future maps. There are links to Driving Skills for Life videos that parents can show their teenagers after seeing one pop-up box after another that reads, “Fatality. 19 years old. No seatbelt worn.” Although the site is in its infancy, it already links to enough YouTube videos of news reports and crash aftermaths to terrify any parent. Only data from 2006 is searchable, but other years will be added soon.
Do the statistics from your daily commute match what you see on the roads? Taking an “America’s Deadliest Roads” trip this summer? Let us know in the comments.