toll booth collisions

“The most dangerous place on the highway is the toll plaza, say federal investigators.”

– April 18, 2006, Associated Press

Apart from being an expense, a travel interruption and a frequent cause of traffic jams, there’s another reason for drivers to feel uncomfortable at highway toll plazas – they’re dangerous. At a 2006 hearing in Washington, D.C., investigators for the U.S. National Traffic Safety Board revealed that:

• 49 percent of all the vehicle accidents on interstate highways in Illinois occurred at toll plazas, and three times as many people died in them as in accidents on the rest of the same roadways.

• 30 percent of all car accidents on the Pennsylvania Turnpike happen at toll plazas.

• 38 percent of all collisions on New Jersey toll highways are toll plaza incidents.

The findings led to calls by highway officials to replace traditional toll booths, which collect cash, with remote electronic collection methods that eliminate rear-end accidents, the most common kind of crash at toll plazas. But a professor at Central Florida University’s department of civil and environmental engineering reported that adding electronic toll collection lanes to traditional toll plazas could lead to even more vehicle collisions.

So what’s a driver, who would rather part with no more than his money at a toll plaza, to do? In two words: pay attention. Vigilance and caution are a driver’s only reliable defenses. Federal highway officials admit that toll plazas are often bewildering locales, with too many and too frequent changes in traffic patterns, too many signs to read and too many decisions for drivers to make in too short a time.

To emerge unscathed, follow these guidelines:

1) Plan how you’re going to pay as far in advance as possible. If you need to pay cash, be sure you have enough of it before you set off on the road.

2) Slow down. If you’re approaching a toll plaza you’re not familiar with, consider driving under the speed limit to give yourself time to read the signs indicating which lanes are open and which are designated for the way you want to pay.

3) Whether you’re sure you know where to go or not, be vigilant by looking all around your vehicle for other drivers who may be so confused or distracted that they don’t see you. Even when if you’re in the middle of your payment transaction, keep an eye on your rearview mirror for any driver who may be approaching too fast to stop in time, and be ready to use the gas pedal to create more space.

4) If you get into the wrong lane, NEVER BACK UP. Proceed through the toll lane and deal with whatever consequences you have to after the fact. Cameras will record your license plate number; if you didn’t pay the right amount, you’ll be notified by mail, asked for payment and, most likely, given an opportunity to appeal any penalty.

5) If you drop your toll ticket, money or receipt, NEVER GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE to pick it up. Far too many people have been killed because of this by the next oncoming vehicle.