TUPELO • After wrecks along the Natchez Trace caused 10 deaths since August, law enforcement officials are taking steps to remedy the problem.
“We have taken many actions in an attempt to decrease the number of accidents,” said Chief Ranger Sarah Davis. “Probably one of our most effective tools is rangers using unmarked vehicles to patrol the Parkway to focus on aggressive and distracted driving.
“We moved rangers to areas where the most accidents occur, and we are writing more tickets and giving fewer warnings.”
In most of the fatal wrecks, speed was a factor, along with impaired or distracted drivers. To battle the problem, rangers have also increased the number of checkpoints and saturation patrols.
A two-week saturation patrol that focused on aggressive driving behavior resulted in the issuance of 300 citations. A December checkpoint in Lee County led to 28 vehicles being impounded for a variety of violations including unlicensed drivers or lack of insurance.
But just writing more tickets doesn’t mean drivers will slow down and pay more attention. Between 2013 and 2015, rangers issued an average of 2,000 tickets per year along the 440-mile length of the parkway. Since 2017, that number has more than tripled to around 7,500 tickets per year. The recent deaths are during a period where more tickets are being written.
“Since 2005, a total of 74 people (including five bicyclists) have been killed from motor vehicle collisions on the parkway,” said Parkway Superintendent Mary Risser. “In more than 90 percent of collisions that result in death, the at-fault driver lived within 50 miles of the parkway. In all but one of the recent cases, the drivers were from local communities.”
Risser said there are five traits associated with most traffic fatalities: speed, impaired drivers, failure to use seat belts, unlicensed drivers, and distracted driving.
Speed was a factor in several of the recent wrecks. The speed limit along most of the Natchez Trace Parkway is 50.
In mid-February, a driver doing 72 lost control, hit a tree and died. Three days later and only a few miles away, a car doing 90 hit a tree, killing two people. In October, a woman was ticketed for driving 75. Three nights later, she was going 85, lost control, hit a tree, and was killed.
“The Parkway is a scenic byway, not an interstate highway,” said Risser. “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.”