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Improving Safety Issues Associated with Low-Visibility in the Paynes Prairie Area

As residents that live in close proximity to Florida’s notorious Paynes Prairie, the Gainesville Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC takes note of the numerous smoke and fog related accidents that have occurred in this area. In response to the 2012 pile-up, which injured 21, and took the life of 11, Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles conducted an independent review of the circumstances, in an effort to reduce the likelihood of similar accident in the future. As stated in the Incident Response Report,

“Due to the low-lying geography of Paynes Prairie, and the history of frequent environmental conditions that cause limitations in visibility in that area, a fixed messaging system should be implemented.These fixed signs and electronic message boards would forewarn travelers of hazardous conditions along the roadway.”

Prompted largely by residents’ general discontentment over the lack of progress made in addressing safety concerns during the year following this horrific pile-up, State Representative Keith Perry took action in March of 2012. Following much debate over funding and planning, funding was eventually approved for an improved message warning system, to include an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).

Earlier this year, work commenced on incorporating ITS, which uses car-level visibility sensors, both infrared and standard, as well as traffic cameras, to relay data back to Gainesville Traffic management Center for the purpose of posting warnings and alerts on message signs.

Many are optimistic over this updated alert system, which includes fixed messaged boards at both ends of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Yet, at the same time, many are concerned over whether the proposed placement of the signs will provide motorist with ample warning when visibility issues pose a hazard to public safety.

While footers for the columns that will hold the message signs have already been installed, local concerns have prompted the city to cultivate an alternate southbound location, positioned in closer proximity to Williston Road. Earlier this week, a public meeting was held in which 14 out of the 15 speakers supported moving the southbound sign to a location farther north.

General consensus over the relocation centered on the benefits of a more advanced warning of low-visibility due to smoke or fog. Stated differently, the sooner a driver becomes aware that they are approaching a dangerous condition, the better able they will be to adapt and take the necessary safety precautions. In particular, speakers noted the manner in which early warning provides motorists with an option to turn around, and thereby avoid the hazard altogether.

As Accident & Injury Attorneys, we support moving the southbound sign, for the simple reason that, ‘it just makes sense.’ Although contemplation of relocation would have been preferable, had it occurred prior to installation of the footer, this consideration must take a backseat when it comes to improving public safety. Quite simply, the magnitude of the problem, warrants that appropriate measures be taken to implement long-term solutions that will effectively and efficiently address the problem.

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