Unless it's the only road to get to a great BBQ joint, it sounds like a place to avoid if you ask me! Looking deeper into it, a little research of 20 years of accident reports down at the highway patrol office now reveals that the number one reason of crashes at Dead Man's Curve is unsafe speed. Going too fast around the curve results in loss of steering control, exceeding the cars lateral grip limits, cars going off the road, and way too many accidents.
Can Dead Man's Curve be made safer? Here's a quick review of what has been done in the past. The SLOW CURVE AHEAD sign with the big arrows and blinking lights that the county put up a few years ago hasn't helped any. The annual list of most dangerous roads in America still has Dead Man's Curve at #1, so that kind of repeated publicity isn't slowing anyone down. Even that summer when trooper Jones camped out down there every Friday and Saturday night didn't lower the accident count.
So much for the made up world of the song, let's talk about the real world now. Just maybe, the basic design of the road is the problem. The narrow two lane road that goes near my house is one example of a dangerous curve, and this summer the county is making some improvements to make it safer. I thought it would be interesting to try and figure out what they are doing, understand why it will be safer, and walk along the road to shoot some photos to see what is up.
Here is a road near me that we will analyze a little bit:
Starting on the right side and moving to the left, around the curve around the lake, then up toward the top is how we'll walk the road. From the photo above it just looks like a big ol' curve, but once you see the elevation changes and how narrow it is, the danger is easy to see as you drive it.
Ready? Let's walk the road and see what we can learn:
2. Now we're farther down the hill, and here you can see the fresh grading on the left, which is where the new road will go. This does a couple of good things, like getting us away from the trees on the right, and opens up the view ahead just a bit so that drivers can better anticipate what comes next. It will also make the upcoming curve a bit more gradual, and that should mean safer. Amble on down by the white water truck with me.
4. Past the truck, now we can see more of the curve, and that we will be going uphill soon. All the downhill up to now would be great if you were a race car driver, since this adds to the speed, but for everyday driving, it probably adds another hazard to an unaware driver. At the bottom of the hill, the road goes over a creek that drains a pond on the right. The end result of that is that the road will remain pretty narrow down here at the low spot, since I don't see any signs of a new big fat wide bridge being built. Even making the road safer is still limited by the hills and water in the area. Onwards to the bit of orange fencing up there.
5. Now we're at the bottom of the hill and looking up. The road is a bit straight here, so that's safer than the curve we just came thru, but now we're realizing that after this uphill bit that the road will curve to the right. Again, with all those trees on the right our vision is limited. The drivers in NASCAR don't have to worry much about the road ahead, since they're driving the same route hundreds of times in a race, but for the rest of us we get one chance to go down this road safely or we (cue the music) "...won't come back from Dead Man's Curve".