Local 6 investigates notorious Fairbanks curve

By Erik von Ancken, Anchor/Reporter, evonancken@clickorlando.com
Published On: Nov 02 2012 11:41:10 PM EDT
Updated On: Nov 03 2012 01:17:35 AM EDT

Are reflectors meant to make the road safer causing crashes?

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Florida Department of Transportation is in the middle of a $400,000 project meant to upgrade the notorious Fairbanks curve on Interstate 4. The department hopes the fixes will help to put an end to the accidents that happen so often, especially in the rain.

The plan is to grind out the confusing grooves, cover the concrete with asphalt to improve traction, and then replace all of those closely-spaced reflectors meant to warn drivers to stay in their lane.

But a Local 6 viewer asked us to look into those reflectors to see if they are actually contributing to crashes.

With so many of them stacked in a small section of the highway; only on the westbound side and only in the area of the curve, the viewer wonders if the reflectors are so slick, hitting them could cause a driver to lose traction and lose control in the rain.

Truck drivers Local 6’s Erik Von Ancken spoke to say, yes that theory is true.

"It could absolutely make it more slick, for anybody," said Rick Compton who’s been a truck driver since 1989.

Terri Simmon, another truck driver, agreed saying, "Because if they're slick when it’s raining you lose traction on your tires and you can slide."

Truckers tell Local 6 there's so little road surface in between the reflectors that the tire doesn't have much to grab and can slip and spin out.

“I think the back of your trailer could slide, lose traction, the tail of your trailer could come around, you could jack knife," said Simmons.

Von Ancken asked Dr. Ashok Gurjar to analyze the curve and the reflectors. Gurjar is professor of civil engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

"You really can't say that a reflector alone could cause problems, but with other factors in place, yes, there's a possibility you could have a problem," said Gurjar.

Gurjar say studies show, generally, reflectors are safe, and helpful but in a sharp curve, at high speed, in the rain they could cause more problems.

“Certainly this adds another element to this curve,” asked Von Ancken.

“It could, it could. It needs to be studied," replied Gurjar.

FDOT tells Local 6 the reflectors were installed in the past few years, so Von Ancken scoured hundreds of crash reports.

Some drivers admit to "changing lanes" before they wrecked, but many claim they "lost traction" and "started to skid."

Steve Olsona spokesman for DOT says the agency doesn’t believe the reflectors are a problem,

“We don't believe so. We believe that speed in inclement conditions is primarily the reason for that," said Olson.

Olson insists the reflectors are helping, not hurting.

“If you're going really fast it might not. but we believe if you're staying to the speed limit, it's safe," said Olson.

He says the placement of the reflectors is not excessive, "It's not excessive. We want people to stay in their lanes, and that's the reason why they put those down. On a curve like that, you shouldn't be making lane changes there."

But FDOT admitted its engineers don't actually follow up with the people who crashed in this curve and they don't actually know what the drivers were doing when they wrecked like if they were changing lanes, or if they hit the reflectors.

FDOT keeps pointing to speed, because they say that's what keeps showing up on the Florida Highway Patrol crash report.           

Although FDOT agreed to take a look at the reflector theory, they will still be going back in for now.

And in 2014 they're spending billions to rip up Interstate 4, straighten it out, and get rid of that curve completely.

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