Route 211, which runs from Montgomery to Deerpark, has plenty of rural sections in its 24 miles, although most people probably don’t think of it as “backcountry.” It’s more likely known for its wide, congested strip through the Town of Wallkill’s dense, commercial district, home to the Galleria at Crystal Run.
That milelong section can’t be ignored. A cluster of five fatal crashes – including ones in which pedestrians were struck and killed as they crossed the highway – occurred there and helped push Route 211 to the top of the list.
But most of the crashes occurred outside Wallkill’s Miracle Mile and Middletown, in relatively open areas where Route 211 looks much like other roads with the highest fatal-crash rates.
Why were country roads deadlier? In general, rural fatality rates are more than double those of urban areas, largely because of the higher speeds, more frequent curves and longer distances traveled, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
But locally, explaining why one road stretch was deadlier than another in a given period can be difficult, given the relatively low crash numbers and long road distances involved.
Bill Werner, the Deerpark police chief, blamed a variety of factors for his town’s deadly crashes – principally speeding, he said, but also bears and deer in the roadway and driver fatigue or inexperience.
Speeding was, in fact, the leading overall cause of the fatal crashes the Record studied, regardless of where they occurred. But in rural places like Deerpark, the temptation to hit the gas might be stronger, since traffic is light and police officers are few and far between.
“There aren’t enough police officers out there,” Werner said.
If he had the funding, Werner said, he might tighten enforcement on Route 97 near the Hawk’s Nest, where motorcyclists like to congregate and open their throttles in warm weather.
Newspaper accounts of the Deerpark crashes hint at some of the unique hazards encountered in rural areas, where the scarcity of traffic and cops seems to encourage risky road behavior.