State officials say they are doing everything they can, and plead with drivers to be more careful.
“When it comes to freeways, there are typically few engineering solutions that will address crash patterns,” Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning told this news outlet. “Most of the issues stem from drivers going too fast for conditions, or vehicle defects. However, (crash-pattern data) does help us identify areas where we see a higher number of crashes so we can look for any possible changes.”
A half-mile segment of I-75 in Montgomery County just north of U.S. 35 ranked sixth for the rates of fatal and serious injury crashes among urban freeways in the state, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of ODOT crash data from 2017 through 2021.
That stretch of road saw 181 crashes per year on average between 2017 and 2021. Of those crashes, about 67 involved some kind of injury or death and of those 67, about four involved a serious injury or death.
That section of highway was under construction during the study period, so the higher crash number there was likely due to a work zone, Bruning said. Such area typically have a slim margin for error because of narrow lanes, shifting traffic patterns and other changes that require drivers to be extra alert and attentive, he said.
“We build in a lot of things that allow the margin of error to be larger for a driver,” Bruning said. “So, as an example, if I’m driving down I-75 when it’s not under construction, and I lose control and I hit those rumble strips, it shakes my car, catches my attention and I pull my car back into the travel lane, so I’ve got a little margin for error.”
A motorist driving the same way in a work zone is probably hitting a concrete barrier and shutting down the interstate, Bruning said.
“When you get in a work zone setting, that margin for error is much, much lower,” he said.
ODOT, by reconfiguring that section of I-75, allowed traffic to flow better by removing conflict points caused by multiple merges into lanes of traffic, he said.
“When you have people trying to vie for the same piece of real estate on the highway, that’s when you have problems,” Bruning said.
I-70 in Clark County
Several stretches of I-70 in Clark County accounted for five of the top 10 of fatal or serious injury crashes among Ohio’s rural freeways. Those include three sections of roadway near the I-70/675 Interchange ranking second, third and eighth, one by I-70 at the Ohio 4 Interchange that ranked fourth and one near I-70 at Snider Road that ranked seventh.
The area near the I-70/675 Interchange includes three nearly mile-long sections of highway being further studied for potential safety improvements, Bruning said. No specifics have been identified at this time, he said.
A three-quarter mile section of I-70 near the I-70/Ohio 4 Interchange was previously studied in 2017 and “no countermeasures were recommended,” he said.
On a 1.5-mile portion of I-70 near Snider Road, ODOT engineers found a slope issue in the left lane in 2021, Bruning said. “We noticed the pavement wasn’t draining properly, so that was the issue and it was fixed,” he said.
The human toll
Data from the Ohio State Highway Patrol updated early last weekpaints a similar picture based on crash statistics culled from Jan. 1, 2018 through Oct. 30, 2023
In Montgomery County, I-75′s 7,043 crashes during that time exceeded the amount of crashes other roadways like Ohio 48, Ohio 725, I-70, Ohio 741, U.S. 35, Ohio 202 and Ohio 4.
In Clark County, the 2,560 crashes on I-70 exceeded those reported on other roadways, including U.S. 40, Ohio 72, Ohio 41, Ohio 4
Last year saw more fatal crashes on those roadways than in any of the previous four years, with 9 fatal crashes on I-75 and 5 fatal crashes on I-70 in Clark County.
Examples of such crashes include
- On Sept. 30, a crash on I-75 South near Stop Eight Road killed one and injured three others. Speed and impairment are suspected contributing factors in the crash.
- In June, two people died in a semi truck crash on Interstate 75 North in Dayton after the semi went down an embankment and landed on its side. The crash closed I-75 North and the Stanley Avenue ramp to I-75 North for approximately nine hours as crews investigated and cleared the scene.
- In February 2020, a vehicle crossed an I-75 median in Moraine, leading to a crash that killed three Middletown family members and left a fourth critically injured.
- In November 2019, a semi-truck driver died after crashing into an already disabled SUV and a Mad River Twp. ambulance that were on the shoulder of Interstate 70 in Clark County near Ohio 4. The crash also resulted in the injury of the SUV driver and two Mad River Twp. paramedics.
What can be done
Mandi Dillon, Southwest Regional spokeswoman for ODOT, said the agency’s goal with the Highway Safety Improvement Program implemented in 2019 is to prioritize investments where they make the greatest impact, and develop solutions that will reduce the risk of crashes occurring.
ODOT dedicates about $183 million annually for engineering improvements at severe crash locations or locations with the potential for severe crashes — one of the largest state investments in the nation, Dillon said.
That funding is available to both ODOT and local governments, and can be used to make improvements on any public roadway, she said.
Bruning said it is important to remember that while ODOT can make roadways safer through engineering, “ultimately it is the driver that has the most power to prevent a crash by dropping distractions, driving sober, obeying speed limits and buckling up.”
Enforcement a key tool
Numerous factors can contribute to a crash, including unfamiliarity with roads, speeding, advanced age, youthful inexperience or OVI, according to Deogratias Eustace, a University of Dayton professor who serves as the director of the Transportation Engineering Lab.
But drivers, not roadway design or the vehicles themselves, are primarily to blame, as they contribute to 95% of all crashes, Eustace said.
“We expect that when vehicles (become) autonomous ... probably the crash rate may go down, but we don’t have evidence yet,” he said.
In the meantime, a way to reduce the amount of crashes is to step up enforcement, Eustace said.
“The presence of the police officers’ patrol cars make a big difference,” he said. “If someone drives (past) a certain place and never sees a cop car there, they’ll always be speeding.”
A place with even at least intermittent police presence will give motorists who regularly use a roadway an added incentive to drive more carefully there, and in the process minimize the chance of a crash, he said.
Local and state law enforcement worked to do that in September by conducting a joint traffic enforcement effort on I-75 and U.S. 35. The Dayton Service Initiative is a partnership of multiple area law enforcement agencies formed to slow down motorists and reduce fatal crashes in Montgomery County as local law enforcement found a jump in traffic deaths in the county during the previous year.
The effort included Dayton Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Vandalia Division of Police.
Crashes on I-75 in Montgomery County and I-70 in Clark County have killed or seriously hurt hundreds of people in recent years. Ohio State Highway Patrol data shows I-75 in Montgomery County sees more than three crashes on average a day, each potentially impacting local commutes interstate commerce.