Why Are the Most Dangerous Roads in West Virginia?

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West Virginia is not known for its superb driving conditions. Many drivers often speed and violate basic traffic laws, causing car accidents that have historically resulted in hundreds of fatalities each year. Aside from the high incidence of negligent drivers, West Virginia also contains dangerous roadways that contribute to accidents involving even sober drivers. However, when combined with dangerous drivers, these highways become extremely fatal. Some of the deadliest roadways in the state are U.S. 33 and I81.

West Virginia Car Accident Statistics

West Virginia is one of the most dangerous states to navigate, caused in part by high incidence of negligent drivers on the road. Currently, the state’s high accident rate is much more sobering than the national average, with 14.7 accidents occurring for every 100,000 people. Some families, like the Browns from Clay County, are still recovering from the emotional damage caused by negligence-based accidents such as drunk driving. Commonly, speeding and intoxication cause many of the accidents in West Virginia. This is alarming because it means all drivers must remain alert while traversing the state’s roadways.

Why Are Roadways So Dangerous?

Although negligent drivers contribute to the issue of West Virginia’s dangerous roadways, they cannot take all the blame for driving-related casualties. Some of the state’s roadways pose risks due to their construction around West Virginia’s topography. Professor David Martinelli (West Virginia University) comments that rural roads are much more dangerous than city roads because they lay on top of the state’s natural geography. Interestingly around 60% of car accident-related casualties occur on rural roads. These narrow, poorly lit roadways compound any potential risk negligent drivers bring to the road.

To make matters worse, West Virginia’s weather conditions add a third dangerous factor to the car accident equation. With its mountainous geography, West Virginia’s roadways are prone to inclement weather patterns. This is a significant issue for West Virginia’s Division of Highways, which owns 95% of the state’s roads. This workload often prevents the department from keeping up with maintenance procedures like snow-plowing.

The State’s Most Dangerous Roads

Though all roadways pose risk, West Virginia possesses two stretches of highway that have a higher incidence of car accidents.

  • The U.S. 33 has claimed many victims to its treacherous topography. Law enforcement in Pendleton County claim that it is one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the whole state. The state plans on designating thousands of dollars to hazard-related signs, warning drivers not to drive too recklessly on this narrow highway. This is necessary considering GPS systems oftentimes route unsuspecting drivers onto the freeway without any forewarning. One aspect of U.S. 33 that makes it so dangerous is its “horseshoe” curve, which is an extremely narrow turn, mirroring a U-turn.
  • I-81 is another dangerous highway that West Virginian residents must drive on. This extension of highway is extremely narrow and mountainous, a combination that creates a lot of accidents when accounting for hazardous weather and reckless drivers. Some drivers that are unfamiliar with the state’s terrain might not realize they are driving recklessly before it becomes too late. This highway poses great risk to the state, as a predicted growth in passenger and freight-related traffic means its narrow roadways will be even more congested in the coming years.

West Virginia’s roadways are dangerous for several reasons. Negligent drivers are one cause for alarm, especially when noting that speeding-related accidents and drunk driving are among the top reasons for car accident-related fatalities. The state’s topology lends itself to this problem because of its mountainous, rocky nature. Narrow roadways pose enough risk as it is, but the elevation associated with mountainous terrain causes inclement weather conditions that further escalate driver risk.