By MEGHAN HAAS
A mother and adult son were killed on a snow-covered Interstate 94 last month, adding to the growing death toll on one of the most dangerous stretches of road in southwest Michigan.
On Jan. 17, Carol Griesemer, 78, and her son, Andrew Griesemer, 54, of Northville, were involved in a crash that killed them both. They are the latest deaths in a long line of fatal accidents on I-94.
In the portion of I-94 that runs from Paw Paw to Battle Creek, more than 300 vehicles crashed in the past 20 years, causing more than 30 deaths, according to data from www.city-data.com/accidents/Michigan.
While winter weather plays a part in many of these accidents, other incidents may be caused by sheer volume of traffic or distracted driving, authorities say. State officials hope to educate the public in safer driving methods to keep these numbers from increasing.
“I-94 in and of itself is a dangerous road,” said Steve Frisbie, director of operations
of Battle Creek’s Emergency Medical Service. Frisbie said he does not understand why the stretch of road that runs through Battle Creek is as dangerous as it is. Visibility is not a problem, and the hills in the area are long, he said.
Almost all crashes are preventable, Frisbie said, because a crash means that mistakes were made. In some cases, many mistakes occur. Weaving in and out of lanes, impatience by other drivers with semi trucks, and the presence of people driving too slow cause many accidents on this stretch.
However, Sgt. Seth Reed, of the Michigan State Police department in Marshall, said the main reason for accidents near Battle Creek is the terrain. Many open fields line I-94 near Galesburg, Reed said. With the open stretches of concrete, wind can push large amounts of snow across the road allowing it to ice over.
Concerning crashes in non-winter months, Reed said that slow cars moving into fast traffic caused enough crashes for the Michigan Department of Transportation to extend exit and entrance ramps. Reed said that today’s drivers are different, too. “Drivers are more aggressive now than they used to be,” he said.
Lt. John Blue, of the Michigan State Police department in Portage, said congestion is the problem behind the I-94 accidents along the stretch that he and his officers patrol. There are many exits onto and off of I-94 in his jurisdiction that go from three lanes down to two, causing the congestion, he said.
To fix distracted driving, Lt. Dale Hinz, of the Michigan State Police department in Paw Paw, said his office set into effect a sting operation of sorts. Over the past two summers, Hinz and his department set an officer in an unmarked car to catch drivers who are driving distracted. The sting has been good at cutting down distracted driving, Hinz said. Before this operation, Hinz said, keeping track of distracted driving typically involved a crash.
Drivers are often traveling too fast for the conditions, such as the most recent accident on Jan. 17 this year, Hinz said. More than 20 drivers received citations. “The goal isn’t to be punitive, but to modify driving behavior,” he said.
The area just south of Paw Paw is prone to lake effect snow, said Hinz. The snow coverage and icy roads, combined with motorists’ speeds, causes accidents, he said. Hinz said talking about driving appropriately for conditions may seem redundant, but Channel 3’s yearly interview with a state trooper to discuss road safety in the snow is part of the state police’s outreach program to try and educate the public. The goal is to teach drivers how to travel safely.
Hinz said his office hopes to educate the public, especially about the importance of slowing down. “If you want a true appreciation of speeds, stand outside at one of those ‘park and drive’ areas next to the freeway and watch and listen to speed of the vehicles on the road,” he said.