trace wreck

An emergency responder looks inside a truck that struck a tree and killed the driver. Photo courtesy of Natchez Trace Parkway.

    At the end of February, a driver was going 72 mph on the Natchez Trace Parkway, lost control of the vehicle, hit a tree, and was killed. Three days later at 3:00 am, within a few miles of the first accident, a driver was traveling 90 mph when he left the road, hit a tree, and killed two people in the vehicle. Felony charges are pending against the driver. 

   At the end of December, a 19 year-old was speeding on the Parkway. She missed a curve, launched the vehicle into the air, hit a tree, and was killed. The backseat passenger (the driver’s 8-year-old sister) survived the impact, but she will have to live with the images from that trauma for the rest of her life. 

   In October, a ranger ticketed a woman for driving 75 mph on the Parkway. Three nights later, she was speeding again on the Parkway; this time she was going 85 mph, lost control of the vehicle, hit a tree, and was killed.  

   Recently, the Parkway received a report of a reckless driver going 100 mph on the north end of the park. The driver attempted to pass a vehicle on the wrong side of the road, he lost control, struck an embankment, the car flipped and rolled for 100 yards, and he had to be air-lifted to the hospital. 

   Rangers in the south district stopped a distracted driver and found that he was driving under the influence of methamphetamines. At 6:15 am, a ranger responded to a vehicle that ran off the road and discovered the driver was under the influence of alcohol. The driver registered a .30 Blood Alcohol Concentration, which is more than 3.5 times the legal limit!  

  “Since 2005, a total of 74 people (including five bicyclists) have been killed from motor vehicle collisions (MVC) on the Parkway,” stated Superintendent Mary Risser. “Did you know that in more than 90% of collisions that result in death, the “at fault” driver lived within 50 miles of the Parkway? Parkway neighbors – not visitors – are causing accidents and killing people!”

   Chief Sarah Davis added, “In 2018, the Parkway didn’t have a MVC fatality until August 6. For nine months straight, there were no fatalities. However, in the next nine months, eight fatal MVCs resulted in 10 deaths.”

   “These are actual incidents that took the lives of Parkway motorists. In all but one of these cases, the drivers were from local communities,” said Risser. “The Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Park Service unit. It was designed to provide for leisurely driving. Lanes are 11 feet wide, there are no paved shoulders, and trees line the road. It is a very unforgiving road to drive when speeding, under the influence, or not paying attention.”

   “We have taken many actions in an attempt to decrease the number of accidents,” explained Davis. “We moved rangers to areas where the most accidents occur, and we are writing more tickets and giving fewer warnings. The number of citations issued has increased dramatically from an average of 2,000 from 2013 to 2015, to an average of 7,500 for 2017 and 2018. The Parkway, by the way, does not keep the money generated by the citations that we issue. The money goes to a nation-wide victim’s compensation fund.”

   Rangers have increased the number of checkpoints and saturation patrols to focus on driving behaviors and violations associated with fatalities,” Davis continued. “A 2-week saturation patrol that focused on aggressive driving behavior resulted in the issuance of 300 citations. Another checkpoint resulted in the impoundment of 28 vehicles for a variety of violations including unlicensed drivers or lack of insurance. Probably one of our most effective tools is rangers using unmarked vehicles to patrol the Parkway to focus on aggressive and distracted driving.”

  “One or more of the following five common traits are associated with most fatalities: speed, impaired drivers, failure to use seat belts, unlicensed drivers, and distracted driving,” Risser explained. “To enhance your safety, always be aware of what is going on around you. Please help us make the Parkway a safe place for our visitors from all over the country and the world.” 

   Remember…“The Parkway is a scenic byway, not an interstate highway.”