Lower gas prices, higher visitation numbers for the year, and estimates from travel industry professionals for a busy travel season are top of mind as Blue Ridge Parkway rangers prepare for the Fourth of July holiday. Visitor and traffic safety on the Parkway is always of paramount concern, and in recent years strides have been made to decrease the number of traffic incidents.
In 2001, a traffic study was initiated to determine the number of motor vehicle wrecks along the Parkway during a 5 year period, after the seeing a year with 450 wrecks on the Parkway. The study organized information about wrecks into several categories including type of vehicle, number and type of injuries, number and type of fatalities, precise dates and times, as well as locations of the incidents. Using this information, a traffic safety campaign was begun to monitor and reduce wrecks in the geographic areas identified as hotspots in the study.
One of the major findings of the study indicated that areas with unique road features such as descending radius curves, or "spiral curves", and in some cases, overlooks, further contributed to loss of attention and distracted driving. Schedules were adjusted and law enforcement rangers began to patrol at the locations and at times identified in the study in an effort to reduce the number of wrecks. In addition, a new "aggressive sign" program was initiated to identify and place signs with symbols that accurately described and illustrated the nature of the curve and also illustrated the type of wrecks occurring in targeted areas.
The first signs were installed in the Pisgah district of the Parkway at Mt. Lyn Lowery (Milepost 445.2) in August of 2002, an area that, that at the time, was experiencing an average of five wrecks a year. Since the sign installation in 2002, only 3 wrecks have occurred in that area, with only one reported injury. Several other locations were also identified, including an area near Linville Falls, where a 3 mile section of road was identified as a "High Collision Area" due to the number of unique curves occurring throughout that section. This area was seeing an average of 8 wrecks per year, several with fatalities. Various safety signs were installed in 2003, including "spiral curve" and "moto-man" signs. The moto man signs in particular are meant to address the high number of motorcycle wrecks the Parkway sees each year. Since the signs were installed in 2003, only 11 wrecks have occurred throughout this section, and of those only three reported injuries and there have been no fatalities. Other areas along the Parkway identified as high frequency wreck areas have also been signed and are experiencing similar reductions in incidents.
To view a chart showing annual park wide wreck totals, please click here.