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Encounters in the intersection – Defensive driving is key to safety

By Staff | Feb 9, 2008

One way the pulse of any community is measured is to determine how smoothly the flow of traffic travels on the arteries and collectors in and around the business district and the residential areas.

Estherville, like other American towns and cities, has its designated through streets and highways as established in the traffic flow plan.

Over the years, the question as to why uncontrolled intersections exist surfaces.

“Arteries and collectors were established so residents could get to major points like school, work and out of town,” said Estherville City Administrator Steve Woodley.

All of the collector streets that are linked to the artery streets are controlled intersections with stop signs or yield signs. “The traffic on the adjoining streets have to yield.”

The remaining streets located within residential areas do not have stop signs or yield signs. “They are uncontrolled because the amount of traffic flow doesn’t warrant a stop or yield sign,” Woodley explained.

The city uses the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices which is a nationwide publication that most municipalities follow consistently for traffic signage.

Taken into account are accident rates, speed limit, volume of traffic and visibility at the intersection.

The manual states, “Stop signs are one of the oldest methods of controlling traffic at intersections where the application of the normal right-of-way rule is unduly hazardous. Even though it is generally recognized that stop signs are the most restrictive type of signing, there has been a steady growth in the proliferation of unwarranted stop sign installations. Many of these installations have resulted from requests by local residents to control vehicle speeds in neighborhoods or for pedestrian safety. Unwarranted installations of stop signs cause unnecessary stops, excess fuel consumption and breed disrespect for all stop signs.”

Looking around Estherville, it is easy to determine which streets are the arteries, including:

n Highway 4 (Ninth Street).

n Highway 9 (Central Avenue).

n Fourth Street.

n Sixth Street.

n 13th Street.

n Third Avenue South.

Woodley holds the belief that for an accident to occur at an uncontrolled intersection, two mistakes have to occur.

If a misjudgment is made on who has the right of way or if one isn’t driving defensively, an accident is highly probable.

“If both drivers aren’t paying attention and aren’t driving defensively, there is going to be a problem. But if at least one of the drivers is paying attention and driving defensively, there should not be an accident at an uncontrolled intersection,” he said, noting the city offices obtain police accident reports every month. The site of each accident is then plotted on a map.

At annual intervals, the map is studied to see exactly where accidents occur the most.

“We have kept this accident history since 1993,” he said.

It is pretty common knowledge that the majority of the accidents occur in the most heavily traveled intersections, Ninth and Central Avenue and Sixth and Central Avenue. Both of these sites are controlled intersections with stoplights.

Woodley offered some common sense advice. “Drive defensively. Drive not only for yourself but for everyone else.”