Human error, high traffic problems on U.S. Highway 12

Farm Forum

On the same day that the evaluation results from a study on how to decrease collisions and fatalities on a stretch of U.S. Highway 12 between Aberdeen and Ipswich, there was a crash on the highway corridor that sent a woman to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

On June 30 officials from the state Department of Transportation, South Dakota Highway Patrol and Federal Highway Administration presented the analysis of the existing conditions of the U.S. Highway 12 corridor, which is the first step of the entire process.

The study’s project manager, Wade Kline, presented a number of statistics which were gathered to show which areas have the highest rate of crashes, what the daily load of traffic is at certain areas on the corridor and what kind of vehicles are using the road.

From 2011 to 2015, there have been 180 crashes on the corridor.

The analysis found three locations on the corridor which have higher crash rates than the state average, which is for every million vehicles that enter the roadway, 0.27 of those vehicles crash.

The intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and 361st Avenue near North Central Farmers Sun terminal had a crash rate of 0.30. The intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and state Highway 45 near North Central Farmers Craven terminal had a crash rate of 0.28. The intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Edmunds County Road 15 near Glacial Lakes Energy Ethanol Plant had the highest crash rate at 0.37.

The current average daily traffic rate volumes range from 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles, with nearly 20 percent of that traffic being heavy trucks. The agricultural-related goods movement along the corridor has increased in recent years.

Mine Lake Association member Stu Nelson said the truck traffic has increased dramatically.

“In the past 20-plus years that I’ve lived at the lake, we’ve just seen a tremendous increase in the amount of traffic on the highway, and probably an even bigger increase in the amount of large trucks,” Nelson said.

“Obviously, with the addition of the ethanol plant and the grain storage facilities, we’ve just seen a huge increase in truck traffic and farm equipment. So all the traffic is concentrated,” Nelson said, referring to the months when agricultural traffic is highest.

Nelson believes that the high traffic rates paired with wireless technology are the biggest factors in why there are so many crashes, close calls and lives lost along the corridor.

“In the advent of cellphones and all the electronic devices you can use, there’s a lot more distracted drivers out there. It happens to me. It happens to everyone,” Nelson said.

Ways to increase safety on the corridor will take into account the traffic rates.

That means the study will now focus on how to accommodate the increasing heavy truck traffic and where those accommodations need to be located, such as adding or lengthening turning lanes.

Other potential improvements include expanding lane sizes and adding turning lanes,” Kline said.

The state Department of Transportation has made changes in recent years, such as adding turn lanes, and there are plans to add rumble strips this fall.

Kline said the red flag goes up when there are fatalities.

“Of the five fatalities along the corridor, two were from angled non-intersection crashes and three were from head-on collisions. Based on our analysis, you’ve got two that were essentially weather-related and three that were impaired-driver related,” Kline said.

According to state Highway Patrol Lieutenant Doug Coughlin, the corridor is no different than any other corridor in the state.

“With this corridor, it’s nothing really different than any other stretch of road. We see speeding violations, seat belt violations, hazardous moving violations — those are the most common. The violations are basically statewide, but in this stretch of road, it’s the same thing,” Coughlin said.

Hazardous moving refers to stop sign violations, passing in a no-passing zone and following too close, Coughlin said.

Coughlin said it’s not the design of the road along the corridor that is the main issue. It’s the people.

“(The corridor is) unique because it’s so flat, straight and there’s no vision obstructions. So why we had the severe crashes that we did, it all comes down to driver error. They’re preventable. If they drive attentively, we don’t have crashes,” Coughlin said.

The U.S. Highway 12 corridor study is requesting the public’s input regarding what, where and how changes need to be made to prevent crashes along the corridor.

This is the only time during the study that public comments and input will be gathered.

Written comments can be submitted on the U.S. Highway 12 Corridor Study website at

Comments will not be accepted after July 13.

A second meeting will be scheduled for October to go over the public comments and future conditions analysis.

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