Drivers in the Miami-Dade County area have likely noticed that new poles were installed on Interstate 95 to separate express lanes from general use lanes. The poles were installed two years ago in an attempt to make the highway safer, and preliminary evidence now shows that they are having a significant positive impact on highway safety.
Lane Diving and Miami’s Challenges
Miami’s highway infrastructure challenges are not too unlike those in many other cities. As metropolitan areas grow, and traffic volumes increase, highways need to be expanded in areas where there is often not much available space. This can lead to situations, as is the case for I-95 in Miami, where express lanes are not separated from local, or general-use, lanes by a concrete barrier; the generally preferred setup. Instead, they are separated by poles, cones, or sometimes just solid white lines.
Unfortunately, the poles installed in along I-95 in Dade County 2008 proved insufficient in preventing what is often referred to as “lane diving”, where motorists illegally cross between standard and express lanes on the highway1. In order to be both safe and effective, express lanes require some form of controlled access. Otherwise, express lanes become no different than any other lane on the highway.
Drivers in express lanes can safely travel at speeds faster than the rest of the highway because they are separated from the other lanes of traffic. Otherwise, that safety is undermined, as vehicles traveling at different speeds interacting with each other often leads to accidents. This is exactly what happens when “lane diving” is widespread, as it was along I-95. To combat this “lane diving”, the Florida Department of Transportation, at the end of 2016, replaced the poles separating the express and general lanes with sturdier ones, while also increasing the number of poles.
I-95 Accident Statistics
Heatmap of accidents on I-95 from 2013 – 2017
Preliminary data for 2017, from the Florida Integrated Report Exchange System, suggests that the stretch of I-95 in Miami-Dade County, where the new poles were installed, has gotten safer relative to the rest of the state.
Florida is a fast-growing state, where the population continues to increase by a rate of over 10% per decade. The three counties that make up the vast majority of the population of the area, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties, have been if anything growing slightly faster than the state as a whole. Perhaps due to this growth, the number of accidents that occur along Interstate 95 continues to grow.
However, while adjusted 2017 data shows the continuation of a general statewide upward trend, that trend has not been uniform throughout the state.
Miami-Dade County’s adjusted preliminary accident total for 2017 is lower than 2016. Meanwhile, Broward and Palm Beach Counties saw their accident totals continue to increase as they have been for the past few years. The percentage of I-95 accidents occurring in Miami-Dade County is also decreasing.
It should be no surprise that Miami-Dade County makes up the largest share of accidents along I-95 in Florida. For the period 2013-2017, 31% of all I-95 accidents occurred in Miami-Dade County. However, not all accidents are equal. Statewide, 75.7% of all accidents lead to at least one injury, and 1.9 out of 1000 incidents lead to at least one fatality. Within Miami-Dade County, those numbers are 72.7% and 1.2 out of 1000.
Have the New Poles Been Working?
Fatal accidents on I-95 from 2013-2017
Still, the statewide trends in accident totals are alarming. Accident totals for I-95 in Florida, statewide, grew at an average rate of 12.5% per year from 2013-2017. This is faster than the state and region’s rates of population growth. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida’s vehicle fatality rate is significantly higher than the National Average, particularly in rural areas.
The upward trend in the total number of vehicle accidents may be related to distracted driving, something that has become a bigger and bigger problem over the past decade. The Florida Integrated Report Exchange System Data indicates that distracted driving is a factor in nearly 8% of all accidents. In recent years, distraction is listed as a factor for an accident nearly eight times as frequently as alcohol.
Fortunately, however, it appears as if, despite the increase in the number of overall accidents, they are becoming less fatal.
The new poles installed along I-95, two years ago across Miami-Dade County had a positive impact on safety. This safety innovation has lead to a reduced accident rate in Miami-Dade County. However, Statewide, numbers continue to increase at an alarming rate, while Florida continues to be a more dangerous place to drive than the nation as a whole. Luckily, the number of fatalities appears to be decreasing, and fortunately for those driving in Miami, accidents in Miami-Dade County appear to be less likely to lead to injuries or fatalities than accidents elsewhere in the state.