Interstate 81 only traverses through West Virginia for 26 miles, in the far eastern part of the State. However, it is along this corridor where the highest concentration of truck accidents and fatalities occur. According to research done by our attorneys at Johnstone and Gabhart the two stretches of highway with the most fatalities per mile, are both along Interstate 81.
Most Dangerous Sections of West Virginia Highway
The high concentration of accidents on this section of roadway is partially a reflection of the high volume of traffic, both from trucks and other vehicles. Berkeley County, home to the entire 26-mile stretch of Interstate 81 in West Virginia, is West Virginia’s second most populous county, behind only Kanawha, where West Virginia’s largest city, Charleston, is located. Berkeley County is generally more densely populated than other parts of West Virginia, as it is relatively close to the East Coast. There is even regular commuter rail service from Martinsburg into Washington D.C.
Additionally, Interstate 81 is a major truck corridor. Along with Interstate 59 and a stretch of Interstate 75 in Tennessee, it connects the port of New Orleans with the Northeast. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is one of the only sections of interstate highway in West Virginia to rank amongst the most heavily truck trafficked.
Other Dangerous Sections of West Virginia Highway
The section of road with the third highest concentration of truck fatalities is along the other major truck corridor in West Virginia, Interstate 70, in the far northern part of the State. The stretch of interstate 70 in West Virginia is even shorter than the Interstate 81, and is somewhat more sparsely populated.
Dangerous Highways in Sparsely Populated Areas
Rounding out the Top 5 are two highway stretches in other parts of the state. One of them is right in the heart of West Virginia’s largest city, Charleston, where traffic volumes are relatively high. The other, however, is in a sparsely populated part of Eastern West Virginia, on a curvy stretch of highway 33 in mountainous terrain.
County-level data, comparing the total number of accidents involving medium-heavy trucks with population indicates that there may be some other sections of the state, with relatively low traffic volumes, that are more dangerous for truckers. Of the five counties with the highest rate of truck accidents per capita, three do not have any interstate highways. One of these counties is Pendleton County, with the dangerous curvy stretch of highway 33. The others are in the Western part of the state.
Kanawha County Truck Accidents
There are a number of particularly dangerous sections of highway in Kanawha County. The most dangerous being a 1.36 mile section of I-64 southeast of Chelyan which saw 4 fatal accidents. This section includes a number of tolls where cars and truck swerve and drive erratically to get to different toll booths. Next is the I-119 in South Charleston at the Davis Creek exit. Four fatalities in this small 1.5 stretch between the east and west exits. Next is SR-60 or Dupont Ave east of Cedar Grove. This single lane road running along the Kanawha River can be tricky for trucks to maneuver especially with impatient drivers frequently trying to pass in the oncoming traffic lane. Another short but dangerous section of road is I-77 in Charleston. Going south from the 77-79 split into the city saw two fatal accidents in just 1.5 miles or road. Traffic can get quite dangerous coming into West Virginia’s most populated city.
Cabell County Truck Accidents
Despite Cabell County being one of the most populated counties in West Virginia, there was only one section of highway that was particularly dangerous. A 1.65 stretch of I-64 between SR-52 and SR-527 was the location of 8 different fatal accidents. This stretch of highway includes two of the major exits into downtown Huntington.
Berkeley County Truck Accidents
What would likely be the most dangerous significant stretch of highway, I-81 south of Harrisonburg and James Madison University is the home of the five most dangerous stretches of highway in Berkeley County. This stretch of highway is responsible for 19 fatal truck accidents from 2007 – 2016. A relatively flat and straight section of highway, it’s unclear why it’s resulted in so many fatal accidents.
Are the Highways Getting Safer?
Many believe that highways overall are becoming safer for all users due to a combination of technology and measures to prevent impaired driving. Data from the U.S. Department of transportation largely supports this claim, however, with some ambiguity as to more recent trend, at least nationally.
Over the past decade, truckers in West Virginia appear to be getting in fewer accidents and suffering fewer fatalities.
Although our highways appear to be getting safer, the road can still be a dangerous place. The stretches of roads that produce the highest frequency of accidents and fatalities tend to be the ones with the highest traffic volumes, in cities and towns along major truck corridors.
However, there are other areas where the roads may be even more dangerous despite low traffic volumes. In West Virginia, data points to these sections of road being in the mountainous parts of the East and South, or the winding roads near the Eastern Border on the Ohio River. Curvy roads in sparsely populated areas may produce fewer overall incidents, but drivers along those roads may be more likely to have an accident than drivers on Interstates, even in cities.