A four-vehicle chain-reaction crash on the interstate through Johnston County, North Carolina (NC), left a child dead and five people hospitalized with injuries. The deadly wreck happened on I-40 near the town of Benson just after 1 pm on April 11, 2017.
According to eyewitness accounts and preliminary reports from state troopers, the fatal collision started when an eastbound driver tried to turn through the highway median close to Exit 325 for NC Highway 242. An oncoming vehicle in the far left travel lane on the westbound side of I-40 struck the car as it emerged from the median, pushing it into the path of other cars and trucks.
The child who lost his life wound up trapped in an SUV that caught fire. The identities, ages and conditions of the other crash victims were not disclosed to the public.
Only emergency responders and authorized construction and service vehicles are allowed to use cut-throughs in interstate medians in North Carolina. When the state last revised its statutes and design standards for what highway engineers call highway crossovers in 2004, it clearly stated that “no public-use median crossovers will be allowed.”
The purposes for restricting crossover access is also made plain: “On highways with higher traveling speeds [greater than 45 mph], the potential for more severe crashes is greater. Also, on high-speed facilities, development is usually not as concentrated as on lower speed facilities.”
The caution about danger was borne out by a detailed analysis of median crossover encroachment crashes conducted by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program of the Transportation Research Board. While wrecks in which an unauthorized vehicle proceeded all the way through a median were rare during the time period studied, the collisions that did occur ended in deaths to one or more people between 50 percent and 60 percent of the time.
A primary reason drivers enter median cut-throughs to make illegal U-turns is to reverse direction after missing an interstate exit. Panicking after passing an exit can also lead people to take negligent and reckless actions like stopping in traffic and suddenly shifting into reverse. While we cannot know right now whether a missed exit led to this tragedy in Johnston County, NC, we can take it as a reminder to react calmly and rationally when that happens.
My Carolina wrongful death attorney colleagues and I send our deepest condolences out to the family of the boy who lost his life on I-40.