Beltline peril: Councilman says traffic cameras may be needed on road with 404 wrecks this year

Oct. 16—A wreck at Beltline Road and Spring Avenue Southwest shortly before Decatur's rush hour Sept. 26 sent one vehicle airborne, sparked a chassis fire, damaged five vehicles and caused traffic congestion for several hours, according to bystander video and police.

Miraculously, no fatalities were reported from the wreck that sent three people to local hospitals. But the accident emphasized potential hazards on Beltline Road, which police say has been the site of 404 accidents so far this year, none involving fatalities.

To reduce the number of accidents, City Councilman Hunter Pepper said it may be time to consider traffic cameras on the Beltline, despite their unpopularity.

"People are being careless and reckless and trying to beat that yellow light. It's not a race," said Pepper, whose District 4 includes large portions of the Beltline. "... Traffic cameras to enforce traffic laws, I think it'd be a tremendous tool to have."

A Decatur Daily reporter monitored traffic at Beltline Road and Danville Road Southwest on Oct. 4 from 11-11:30 a.m. and counted 12 vehicles running red lights. On Wednesday, during Decatur's morning rush hour, a two-vehicle collision snarled traffic at that intersection.

Pepper said he's "horrified" at the number of accidents on the Beltline.

"Over the period of a year we have seen a tremendous amount of vehicle collisions," Pepper said. "Four hundred four wrecks is a tremendous number, and it's a very horrifying number.

"That's a lot of wrecks, and that doesn't include some people might not report."

Police have not released a cause of the Sept. 26 wreck, and the city did not release a report on the accident in response to a public records request filed by The Daily last week.

Traffic cameras such as those suggested by Pepper are connected to the traffic signal and to sensors that monitor vehicles passing through. If a vehicle passes a sensor after the signal has turned red, the camera takes a picture of the vehicle with the license plate in view and a citation is issued to the driver.

The cameras Decatur currently has posted at intersections on Beltline Road are there for vehicle detection to change lights, according to Blake Temple at Temple Inc., the company that programs the traffic signals in Decatur. Their cameras are high up; red light cameras would have to be placed lower to also be able to read license plates.

Lt. John Harris at Decatur Police Department provided the 404 total of Beltline wrecks. He said that doesn't represent a significant increase in accidents, but maybe a slight uptick above normal.

He said several factors contribute to accidents — distracted driving, speeding and people not obeying traffic laws.

"If people would eliminate distractions, pay attention to the road and give themselves plenty of time to get to their destination safely, some of these wrecks could be avoided," Harris said.

Pepper said wrecks appear to occur more frequently at Beltline Road's intersections with Danville Road and Spring Avenue.

"Those are common places for wrecks, especially nasty ones," he said.

The councilman agreed with police that drivers need to be more careful.

"People don't have patience to wait and don't want to abide (by) speed limits," he said. "People also need to pay more attention and stay off devices when on the road."

Due to distracted driving, over 3,100 people were killed and 424,000 were injured in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The less distracted driving, the less wrecks we should have," said City Council President Jacob Ladner.

Also contributing to the number of wrecks is the volume of traffic. According to Alabama Department of Transportation data, an average of 41,304 cars per day traveled on Beltline at a point near Modaus Road Southwest in 2021, up about 10,000 per day from five years earlier.

Pepper said expanding Beltline Road by adding more access roads and intersections and more traffic enforcement could also make travel safer.

However, he said the Police Department is about 30 officers short, making proper enforcement difficult.

Hallie Greene, a Decatur motorist, was frustrated Friday morning by the number of accidents.

"Driving on the Beltline is a nightmare, and I do my best to avoid it," she said. "People drive like maniacs.

"No wonder there are so many car wrecks on that road. But 404 is plumb alarming." or 256-340-2437. Twitter @DD_EDaniel