An item in the May 6 Herald-Leader's City | Region news briefs said: "Alcohol use is suspected in fatal crash early Saturday in Lexington, police said.
"The driver was traveling east on Montavesta Road in a 2008 Chevrolet Impala when the car missed a curve, ran off the road and hit a tree head-on, police said."
It's common to see news accounts regarding a crash at or near a curve saying that a driver "failed to negotiate a curve," "lost control in a curve" or "missed a curve." It's also common to see news accounts saying that police think alcohol, speed or both and, occasionally, wet roads were contributing factors.
About 25 percent of fatal crashes on the nation's highways occur at or near curves. In 2011, 25 percent of fatal crashes equated with about 8,000 premature deaths.
Never miss a local story.
Maybe it's time to ask: Why so many deaths at or near curves?
My research over a period of 10 years, primarily in the Central Kentucky area, leads me to believe thousands of people die when they enter a curve that cannot be viewed on the approach, that involves a substantial change in the direction of the roadway, and for which there is minimal or no warning signage. The unrecognized, critical contributing factor: minimal or no warning signage.
Why, one might ask, is the absence of effective warning signage not recognized as a possible critical contributing factor in crashes at curves?
It is, in part, because the investigating officers are not tasked with assessing whether the absence of effective warning signs might have been among contributing factors in a crash. The Uniform Police Trafﬁc Collision Report form does not provide for indication of ineffective warning signs in the "environmental factors" category.
Speciﬁcation of highway warning signage, is, by law, the purview of engineers, not the police. No one, it seems, questions the quality (or lack thereof) of engineering work product (speciﬁcation of warning signage) in connection with a crash at or near a curve.
Which way does the road go beyond the top of the incline on Montavesta Road, where the accident occurred? The answer is that about 50 feet beyond the top of the incline, Montavesta makes a short radius 45-degree curve to the right.
If a driver did not see the lone curve warning sign, the advance view of which was partly obscured by foliage on trees, he would have perhaps one second — at 35 miles per hour — to conform to the curve upon reaching the top of the incline.
The r oadway on Montavesta Road for eastbound trafﬁc involves a lengthy straightaway before a curve that cannot be viewed as it is approached. This circumstance is consistent with a pattern that can be observed at a substantial number of locations in Central Kentucky. A few examples are:
■ Russell Cave Road (Ky. 533) at Huffman Mill Road.
■ North Cleveland Road (Ky. 1973).
■ Briar Hill Road (Ky. 57).
■ West High Street at West Maxwell Street (U.S. 60).
■ Old Richmond Road (U.S. 25) at Athens Walnut Hill Road.
■ Bryan Station Road (Ky. 1970).
■ Chinoe Road at Fontaine Road.
It is likely that all of the drivers who died at the locations listed above had traveled a relatively substantial distance without hitting anything, prior to dying prematurely — perhaps by surprise — at a curve they could not perceive because it had little or no warning signage.
In 2004, a multi-part series, "Death on the Tracks," addressing deaths at railroad crossings, appeared in The New York Times. There are about 600 deaths a year at railroad crossings.
Maybe it's time for a multipart series titled "Death at the Curve" or "Death by Surprise on the Nation's Highways." There are about 8,000 deaths a year at or near curves.