Southern California drivers know all too well that our streets, highways and interstates are among the most dangerous in the country, and the problems are growing worse instead of better. Rush hours in the morning and afternoon that once were distinguishable from one another with lower volumes of traffic in-between are now one continuous rush hour beginning around six in the morning and extending well past eight at night. Combine a staggering number of vehicles with gridlock, excessive speeds, road construction, cell phones, drugs, alcohol and road rage and mix well. You now have a recipe for a deadly cocktail of auto accidents in a state that leads the nation in auto accidents, fatalities and injuries every year.
Although Orange County, California is not the most dangerous county for auto accidents statistically in Southern California, this is true only because the worst of the worst surrounds it. That ignominious distinction belongs to Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties. However, the fact that Orange County is slightly less deadly than its neighbors are brings little comfort to the people who drive on local roadways and witness Orange County auto accidents every day. Even less comforting is the fact that the people who drive the countys deadliest roads know they are dangerous, but continue commuting on them since they really have no alternatives.
What are the five deadliest roads for Orange County car accidents? Lets begin with the worst, which is Interstate 5, the major artery that connects Los Angeles and San Diego. I-5 has a fatal accident rate of 0.85 deaths per mile. From 2004 to 2008, 798 people lost their lives in fatal I-5 auto accidents in California with the vast majority of the deaths occurring in and around Orange County and neighboring counties.
Most people assume that Southern Californias interstates are the most dangerous as they handle the largest volume of traffic. However, this assumption is incorrect as statistically, Californias state, county and municipal roads are far more dangerous, Interstate 5 notwithstanding. Indeed, four of the top five deadliest roads for Orange County car accidents are state and local roads such as California Route 73. Route 73 follows the contours of the San Joaquin Hills, connecting Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano. The posted speed limit on this 17-mile stretch of road is 65 mph. However, CalTrans studies indicate that the fastest five percent of drivers average speeds are 82 mph with tragically predictable results.
The third most deadly Orange County road for auto accidents is scenic Route 74, or the Ortega Highway. Speeding drivers failing to negotiate Route 74s curves often stray into oncoming traffic, and the guardrails in place to prevent steep drops into ravines are not always successful in doing so.
Lovely Laguna Canyon Road is not only one of the deadliest roads for Orange County auto accidents, it is one of the deadliest in the country. Its number four on our list, and one stretch of this highway is so dangerous that local residents say they will go miles out of their way to avoid traveling on Laguna Canyon Road past Big Bend Road.
Rounding out the top five is Route 261, or Jamboree Road. Ostensibly one of the better options for getting across Orange County to Balboa Island, the daily volume of traffic on this route far exceeds planners expectations with unsurprising results. Until Southern California gets serious about creating a more sensible mass transit system to accommodate the areas millions of commuters, we can expect to see more inevitable results measured in Orange County auto accidents and lives lost.