A recent column concerning crossroads on a portion of U.S. Highway 395 north of Spokane elicited a wealth of reader feedback. Some thanked me for clarifying rules of the road, but many spoke of general safety concerns there.
Those safety concerns are a result of the crossroads, traffic density, adverse weather and continuous collision reports along that stretch of roadway. Though there are obviously real safety issues, the positive offshoot is that the issues themselves cause many drivers to travel that road with a high degree of awareness.
The sentiments offered by reader B.C. were typical of driver apprehension over that route. He wrote, “Whenever I hear of 395 I think of all the deaths on that road. I presume it is because the speed limit is so fast, impatient and inattentive drivers, and many crossroads. So many unexplained head-ons, I am really vigilant on that road.”
B.C. thinks of U.S. 395 the same way I think of U.S. 195. I drive the Spokane-Pullman round trip on that road often, and while doing it, I too can’t help but reflect on the many centerline crossings and resulting head-on collisions occurring there. A Greyhound bus driver once told me they are trained to watch the tires of vehicles in their proximity for initiation of a direction change. Whatever the first indicator might be, I am always watching intently for oncoming vehicles to stray over the line and anticipating an avoidance maneuver — especially while riding my motorcycle.
Over many years, I’ve had several occasions where I have moved to the shoulder when seeing an oncoming vehicle’s tires move past the center line. Luckily, in all cases, they were just minor movements as opposed to full-out departures into my lane. If a movement into my lane were sudden and drastic, I’ve often contemplated if an equally drastic move on my part, turning left, might be an effective avoidance. I hope I don’t ever have to find out about that.
When I consider the collision statistics for 395 & 195, coupled with the fact that collisions are increasing on State Routes, I must conclude that some of the inherent danger is simply a characteristic of two-lane highways. The Department of Transportation is undergoing a study of the collision frequency on U.S. 195 now. I believe that as traffic density and adjacent residential population grows to a critical level for two-lane routes, safety can only be enhanced by widening to four lanes.
Besides center line crossings, improper passing is often to blame for mishaps on two lane roadways. Unless drivers collectively improve their passing prowess, which is improbable, having two lanes available for traffic travelling in each direction is the best way to accommodate the differential of vehicle speed.
Without a passing lane, many drivers lack necessary confidence or are otherwise unwilling to make passes around slower traffic, which leads to long “parades” of impatient traffic. This is why I implore those who are holding up vehicles to momentarily pull to the right hand shoulder to allow those vehicles to pass.
Both 195 and 395 have sections of four lane roadway — I’ve even been told that the right of way has been purchased and plans have been drawn for completion of four lanes for 195 from Spangle to Pullman. Expediting that project would benefit Spokane and Washington State University in addition to enhancing safe travel.
For now, don’t let your guard down on these roads or any of our State Routes. The State Routes are generally not dense with traffic, and are often just the opposite: sparse. That generates another problem, where one may be lulled to “sleep” (either figuratively or literally) and be unready for emergencies due to the lack of stimulation. These roads tend to be scenic also, which can itself cause distraction.
Please maintain a steady speed near the limit when conditions allow — if you want to drive below the limit and enjoy the scenery, pull over to let those behind you easily past. Also pay special attention to crossroads, maintaining your lane, proper passing and road conditions while you traverse the two-laners. All of our lives depend upon it!
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at email@example.com.