NEW PALESTINE — The site of the traffic accident that took the life of an area teen has concerned county officials for some time, but the most recent crash has sparked discussions about what can be done to make the rural intersection safer.
Fifteen-year-old Andrew Hall of Greenfield died March 15 from injuries sustained in a car accident at county roads 500W and 300S in New Palestine. The car in which Hall was a backseat passenger went through a stop sign while traveling west on County Road 300S.
The vehicle was struck by a Toyota minivan heading south on County Road 500W, which does not have a stop sign. Hall was not wearing a seat belt at the time, according to law enforcement.
The intersection is notorious for accidents, recording as many as five crashes a year. Local officials have done what they can to make the area safer in the past, including removing trees at the intersection last year.
Now, Hancock County Commissioners and the New Palestine Town Council are looking to see what more can be done.
“Anytime someone is hurt on our county roads, it’s upsetting,” Commissioner Brad Armstrong said.
In May, commissioners ordered a traffic study on the area because of the high number of accidents occurring there. They worked with neighbors to remove several large fir trees at the southwest corner of the intersection that seemed to be obstructing drivers’ views.
The change has decreased the number of accidents, county highway engineer Gary Pool said.
Pool suggested adding a blinking light around the edge of the existing stop signs or installing additional signs before the intersection warning drivers of the upcoming stop.
The safest thing to do, he noted, would be to turn the intersection into a roundabout, but that is not financially possible.
“It’s a major thoroughfare through New Pal, so I can’t just lock it up and make it hard for everyone to commute,” Pool said. “If you just start making everything a roundabout or a four-way stop, it takes forever to get anywhere, and the roads are to get people places.”
New Palestine town manager Dave Book said he thinks drivers simply don’t realize how busy the intersection is, especially from the east.
Keeping the intersection a two-way stop but adding signage is relatively cost effective and something the commissioners are interested in, Armstrong said.
The difference between a serious accident and a minor one can be a matter of seconds, and there’s no guarantee extra signage would have made a difference in Hall’s case, Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
“You would hope that more signs would help, and it really can’t hurt, but accidents are going to happen unfortunately,” Shepherd said.
Federal standards dictate what should be done when an intersection yields a high number of accidents, especially when there are fatalities involved.
Various studies are done when considering changes to an intersection, and facts about the crashes also are taken into account, such as speed and whether or not the passengers were wearing seat belts.
Pool said highway personnel will do their homework before making any changes, but even something as simple as adding more signs can cause issues.
Too many signs often lead to what Pool called “sign-washout,” or drivers ignoring the postings.
The final decision about what changes will be made likely will come from Book, Pool said, because of the intersection’s proximity to New Palestine.
Officials said they plan to take their time in making the decision to ensure the proper change is made.
“We want to make sure we’re doing what is right for that intersection and not just acting on emotions,” Pool told the commissioners Tuesday.