WTOC Investigates: Breaking down Savannah's most dangerous intersections

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Last year, nearly 10,000 car accidents were reported at intersections across Savannah.

WTOC is identifying those danger zones to keep you informed. We've crunched hundreds of accident reports to pinpoint the riskiest intersections.

One of the spots considered to be the most dangerous is White Bluff and Abercorn. The area came in as not only the intersection with the most accidents but also the one involving the most trips to the hospital. In 2017, more than 20 percent of wrecks at intersections were with injuries, and even worse, fatalities.

In anyone's daily commute, it's safe to say you'll hit a busy intersection, and also that more than five percent of those living in Savannah had a wreck at an intersection in 2017.

"Everyone's in a hurry. When people get behind the wheel of their cars, their personality completely changes and they just want you out of the way. I got to get by 'ya," said Chuck Kearns, Chatham Emergency Services.

Here's a look at the top six spots where the most dangerous wrecks happened in Savannah:

  1. Abercorn and White Bluff with one-fourth of accidents being dangerous
  2. Intersections at I-16 and Chatham Parkway (tied with number 1)
  3. King George and Abercorn
  4. Abercorn and Rio Road
  5. DeRenne Avenue and Truman Parkway
  6. Martin Luther King and 37th Street

WTOC also dug through the records to find out the dangerous times for driving through an intersection. Despite the morning rush hour, almost half of the dangerous wrecks happened when most were heading home from work and school, from noon to 6 p.m.

We requested a detailed list of every accident from the police department - almost 200 pages front and back. To tell you how Savannah Police monitor and responds to these accidents, we can't, because they denied our interview requests three times. We did, however, obtain police body cam footage from intersection crashes in 2017 through a Freedom of Information Act. Safety must be a top priority for first responders like Chuck Kearns, who runs Chatham Emergency Services.

"We recently had a paramedic that was getting back into his ambulance on DeRenne," Kearns said. "As he just stepped up on the sideboard of the cab and he had his hand on the door, a car came by too close, grabbed the door, ripped it out of his hand, and bent it backwards on the ambulance. The guy sideswiped us and nearly killed a paramedic on that call."

The city of Savannah tracks accident data, too, but it's a little different. The city's data combines the volume of traffic on a particular road and how many crashes happen there. It doesn't take into account if injuries or fatalities were a result of a crash, so the city's top intersections are different than WTOC's list.

"We'll do a traffic study or go in and investigate and look for issues at the intersections," said Stephen Henry, Traffic Engineering Administrator.

It's the city's job to monitor over 4,000 intersections and traffic signals, big and small. Stephen Henry has devoted over 30 years to improving traffic flow, but it's not the city's job to fix some of these dangerous intersections.

'A lot of the intersections on our list are state routes, and if we look at it and see there are correctible crashes and we believe measures can be taken, then we certainly communicate that to Georgia Department of Transportation and we will work with them to take those measures."

That means it's at GDOT's discretion to make improvements, which can be as small as new striping or as big as new construction projects.

"But do you feel like you have to push them to get some things done," we asked?

"I think it depends on the measure. Certain measures are expensive."

Expensive like the $6.7 million DeRenne Project that's been on the table for fifteen years. The intersection of Derenne and Truman Parkway is on our danger list. GDOT's website says the project is slated to turn the left turn lane from Abercorn to Truman Parkway into a four-lane divided section by 2022.

"Project DeRenne would relieve a lot of congestion you're seeing on DeRenne Avenue currently and hence volume goes down and crashes, in theory, would go down as well."

Most of these crashes have nothing to do with the intersection's design. It's mostly all driver error. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 96 percent of intersection crashes are the driver's fault. Savannah's traffic engineer claims the biggest trend they see is ultimately distraction, which leads to high numbers of rear ends and misjudging the yield to left turns.

"We're hoping with the new distracted driving law that we will see these numbers to start to trend down as it would be against the law to have a phone in your hand. We'll hopefully see a decrease in crashes with the distracted driver."

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