What drives collisions in Champaign County: Causes of crashes revealed

You are currently viewing What drives collisions in Champaign County: Causes of crashes revealedPramod Acharya
The intersection of Prospect and Bloomington in Champaign, IL has the highest number of accidents between 2011 and 2015.

A dry road.

A clear day.

And a parked car or other immobile object.

These are the frequent conditions for a road accident in Champaign County in Illinois, according to the data obtained from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). 

“Oftentimes the crash is a result of something outside of the physical infrastructure, typically driver behavior,” Chris Sokolowski, Traffic & Transportation Engineer at the Public Works Department at the City of Champaign said. 

There were 3,481 traffic accidents in the county. In the City of Champaign, there were 1,645 accidents alone and in Urbana there were 641 accidents, in 2017, the most recent data available.

Between 2010 and 2017, most of the traffic accidents in the County occurred due to the driver’s failure to reduce speed and failure to yield other vehicles, according to a review of IDOT data. 

While the total number of crashes remained steady since 2010, the number of crashes that involve drivers’ failure to reduce speed and failure to yield increased from 1,156 in 2010 to 1,382 in 2017, a 20 percent rise. 

All accident reports were obtained from the Champaign Police Department under a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Case 1

September 11, 2019. 6:36 PM 

The weather was clear. The vehicles were running through the intersection of East Logan Street and South Water Street. When a bus on the east Logan St was moving through the intersection, a teenager was driving a car on South Water Street. Because the car driver did not look for other vehicles before going through the intersection, he failed to yield and struck the moving bus. He ended up in an angle collision, also known as a “T-Bone” accident.

Between 2010 and 2017, 21 people died as a result of crashes caused by failure to reduce speed. The number of people that died as a result from failure to yield was 18.

Distracted Drivers

Driver’s distraction is one of the major factors of traffic accidents in the county. 

“Distracted driving is often a leading cause for traffic accidents,” Thomas Yelich, the Champaign Police Department Public Information Officer said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving includes talking, texting, eating, drinking, adjusting the radio, entertainment system or navigation system.

Case 2 

September 12, 2019. 8:57 PM 

The intersection between West Springfield Avenue and South Country Fair Drive was well-lit. Traffic lights were functioning properly. Weather was clear. Road surface was dry. A car was traveling westbound on Springfield Avenue after leaving Taco Bell. As the driver’s food started to fall off the front passenger seat, they failed to reduce speed and collided in the intersection with another vehicle stopping at a red light. 

The most frequent type of collision is the rear-end accident, with turning accidents, collision with immobile objects and angle accident following.

Other contributing factors to these accidents are improper lane usage, speeding, traffic congestion or other violations of the Illinois Vehicle Code that led to traffic accidents.

Non-Moving Objects and Fatalities

Case 3

September 9, 2019. 1:16 PM

The road surface of the intersection of North Prospect Road and Bloomington Road was dry. A woman in her sixties was driving a car eastbound on Bloomington road. When her cell phone fell off the center console and she tried to reach for it, she failed to reduce speed and her car rear-ended with another car stopped at the intersection. Although there were no injuries, her car caused damages to both vehicles. 

Between 2010 and 2017, of 130 people died in traffic accidents, 38 – or more than one out of four – were killed in fixed-object collisions. 

Nearly half of the fixed-object collisions occurred at night regardless of lighting conditions.

Intersection Accidents Increase

Between 2015 and 2017, the number of total traffic crashes has remained steady in the County.

However, at the same time, there has been an increase in intersection related crashes, increasing from 1,239 to 1,476, a 19 percent rise. 

The intersections are given three priority levels: medium, high, and very high.

The priority level of the intersections determined by their priority index. Priority index is determined by calculating the crash frequency, crash rates, and crash severity.

“The higher the priority index is, the higher the priority is that should be given to the intersection,” according to the report.

The top four critical signalized intersections with a “very high” priority level in the county between 2011 and 2015 were:

  1. Prospect Avenue & Bloomington Road
  2. Lincoln Avenue & University Avenue
  3. State Street & Springfield Avenue 
  4. Sixth Street & John Street

McKinley Avenue & Paula Drive and Boardwalk Drive & Interstate Drive are the top two critical unsignalized intersections with a “very high” priority level, according to the Selected Crash Intersection Location (SCIL) report

The top five intersections with the highest number of accidents in the county between 2011 and 2015 were:

  1. Prospect Avenue & Bloomington Road
  2. Lincoln Avenue & University Avenue
  3. Cunningham Avenue & University Avenue
  4. Mattis Avenue & Bradley Avenue
  5. Mattis Avenue and Springfield Avenue

Generally, crashes within 100 feet of an intersection are counted as intersection related crashes. 

“The major safety concerns based on the most recent analysis are intersections, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and impaired driving,” Harshala Sardar, Transportation Engineer at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said.  

The county not only experienced the increase of intersection crashes, but also saw the frequent involvement of bicyclists and pedestrians in traffic crashes, reflecting a national trend. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that pedalcyslists fatalities and pedestrian fatalities are projected to increase by 10 and 4 percent respectively in 2018.

Between 2011 and 2015, 82 percent of the pedestrian crashes and 91 percent of bicyclists involved in crashes were at intersections, according to the Selected Crash Intersection Location (SCIL) report.

Case 4

September 11, 2019. 10:49 AM 

The weather was clear. Two cars were traveling through the intersection of East University Avenue and South First Street in the opposite directions. One was eastbound on University Avenue approaching the intersection and attempted to turn left, but failed to yield another coming vehicle. Consequently, a 67-year-old man ended up in a turning collision. Although the drivers in both vehicles were alive, both vehicles sustained heavy damages. 

The intersection of Florida Avenue and Philo Road has highest number of crashes involving pedestrians. The intersection of Prospect Avenue and Bradley Avenue has the highest number of bicyclist crashes. 

Impaired drivers were more likely to be involved in an accident at intersections in the Downtown area of Champaign-Urbana and the University District, according to a review of reports and data like the map below.

Looking For Improvements

The City of Champaign is always looking for ways to improve safety and reduce traffic accidents, said Chris Sokolowski, Traffic & Transportation Engineer at the Public Works Department at the City of Champaign. 

According to Sokolowski, there is a safety project planned for University Avenue from Wright Street east to Cunningham in the next year.

Thomas Yelich, the Public Information Officer at Champaign Police Department said that, there are safety projects planned for some other roads in the county. 

The Police Department will post a speed trailer and increase patrol presence to monitor traffic at Prospect Avenue and Bloomington Road, according to Yelich. 

This year, Champaign County City Council is running Bradley Avenue Project to address the road safety issues along Bradley Avenue from Staley Road to Duncan Road. The project includes installing street lighting, filling the sidewalk gap, and modifying the existing lane configuration and cross-section, according to the city council report

According to a study done by Champaign Urbana Urbanized Area Study (CUUATS) staffs, the top five corridors with the highest number of crashes in the county between 2011 and 2015 were:

  1. University Avenue
  2. Prospect Avenue
  3. Neil Street Avenue
  4. Springfield Avenue
  5. Mattis Avenue  

Crash Rates

Although the crash rates (per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled) in the Champaign-Urbana is below the state rate from 2010 to 2015, it has been increased by 11 percent in 2015 than in 2013, according to the Selected Crash Intersection Locations (SCIL) report

In the report, the crash rate means the number of crashes normalized by vehicle miles travelled (VMT).

Crash rates increased even when the yearly Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) decreased. For example, in 2015, VMT slightly decreased than in 2014 but the crash rates increased by 5 percent.

Champaign-Urbana Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP)’s report card show that fatalities per 100 MVMT also increased by nearly 68 percent from 0.34 in 2012 to 0.57 in 2017. 

But the “A injury” (any incapacitating injury) crash rates have been constantly increased since 2011 to 2016 and then declined in 2017, report card shows

Between 2011 and 2015, “A injury” rates in Champaign-Urbana were above the state rates except in 2013. 

Efforts to Reduce Accidents

Champaign Police claims that it has maintained a visible presence to promote responsible driving and accident reduction for the past several years. Yelich said that the Police Department has been trying to promote safe and responsible driving through driver education and awareness regarding the dangers of speeding and distracted driving.  

To reduce the traffic crashes and ensure safety, Illinois Department of Transportation also offers the countermeasures in its Strategic Highway Safety Plans for Champaign County

To reduce the distracted driving, on July 1, 2019, Illinois passed a state law that prohibits the use of electronic communication device, including cell phones, while driving. Now, even just holding, not just using, of those devices while driving will issue a moving violation. 

They also aim to reduce the total “A” injuries, number of severe injuries per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled (MVMT), number of bicyclists-involving and pedestrians-involving crashes by 15 percent by 2020. According to IDOT, any incapacitating injury is considered as “A” injuries. 

Champaign Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study (CUUATS) staff and Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) working group have set the goals to reduce the number of fatalities and the number of fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled (MVMT) by 20 percent by 2020. 

However, the data show that the number of traffic fatalities, fatality rate, and the number of pedestrian crashes has increased since 2014.  

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