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Roads are source of concern

November 23, 2010

By Brittney Bennett, Staff Writer

According to the University of Georgia's Department of Health and Behavior, a 2009 report of motor fatalities stated that the majority of car crashes occur between the months of August and January, especially during holidays and school breaks. Photo by Ashton Jones

The 2009 Georgia Motor Fatality Report as presented by the University of Georgia’s Department of Health and Behavior concluded that the months of August until January are when the majority of Georgia’s fatal car crashes occurred, especially at the commencement of schools, major holidays and school breaks. Almost half of these accidents occurred on rural highways, similar to the main routes leaving Young Harris College.

As winter break inches closer, the need for increased defensive driving is imperative. Of course, this is implied for drivers everywhere, but especially for drivers who have to make the trek out of the basin that is the Enchanted Valley.

For any driver leaving campus there are three main routes according to the 2010 Rand McNally road map and Google Maps. To get through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the outlying parts of Georgia and bordering states a student can take one of three highways.

Highway 515, also known as Zell Miller Parkway, runs west from Young Harris to Pickens county and interchanges to I-575. Another route is US-129, also known as Blood Mountain, which spans 582 miles towards Knoxville. The highway then winds its way through 25 miles of the steepest portions of the Blue Ridge mountains, continuing to Chiefland, FL. The third route, which is Georgia State route 17 alternate, or banner route of GA-17, also winds south through the Blue Ridge mountains.

Luckily for the drivers traveling westbound on highway 515, the route is a fairly new, still well-maintained and offers beautiful scenery rather than ominous hairpin turns and limited sight distance that mountain by-ways are usually known for.

For drivers who need to travel southeast from campus, the mountain bypasses are often chosen to cut travel time; unfortunately with these roads, blind spots and narrow horseshoe turns up and down hill can often cause anxiety.

For residents and frequent travelers of US-129, the road is often referred to as Blood Mountain bypass, since the road narrowly winds its way up and through Blood Mountain, the tallest peak in the Georgian portion of the Appalachian Trail. Though the origin of the name is disputed between a bloody tribal war involving the Cherokee and Creek American Native Indians or for the lush crimson lichens and rhododendrons that grow atop the peak, the mountain road continues to uphold its repertoire with numerous annual car-crash-related fatalities.

The Georgia state route 17 alternate intersects with highway 515 just east of campus and continues southeast through Helen into Cleveland. Though the grade of the mountain-way’s steepness is around a six to seven percent compared to Blood Mountain’s 10 percent, there are numerous sling-shot curves and tight, winding areas that have often left motorists to side swipe guard rails, run-off embankments and often times collide with oncoming vehicles, as White County and surrounding counties’ road data show.

The Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles suggests preparing vehicles for the season’s change. One should check the engine oil, tire pressure and to allow the car’s motor to adequately warm up before heading out on the road. Next, incorporate the traffic flow of the area and anticipate weather factors in your drive time. When driving down the mountain, maintain a constant-slower speed, as notified by road signs. If driving in icy conditions, where loss of control is eminent, remember to take your foot of the gas, do not slam on brakes, but rather, try to maintain stern grip of the wheel in strait direction to help regain control. Make sure to keep a mobile device charged and out of the way to avoid distraction in case of emergencies, have a small first aid kit and even road flares if traveling in desolate extreme weather conditions.

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