Why Are Bartlett, IL’s Roads So Dangerous?

School started last week, and for the students at South Elgin High School, it started with a tragic loss. Two teenage girls were killed in a collision with a semi-truck at the intersection of Rte. 25 and Kenyon Drive.

According to ABC 7, there’s some conflicting information about the fatal crash. The police report says that the teenage driver of the car failed to yield to the truck in the intersection. A witness says that the teen driver had the green light to turn. Bartlett Police have said the investigation is ongoing and it may take some time to determine what actually happened. We do know the force of the crash was enough to send both vehicles into a neighboring cornfield.

Our hearts are breaking for these children and their families. We hope the police can get to the truth of the matter quickly and can provide some closure; the not knowing can be an incredible burden to bear. And if we’re honest, we’d like to know more about this crash because Bartlett, Illinois’ accident percentages are, by and large, higher than the rest of Illinois.

For example, in 2021 (the latest year available from City-Data) there were 82 reported crashes in Bartlett. There were 18,119 in Cook County, and 60,306 in Illinois. So when you look at the overall numbers, they seem small, right?

But when you look at the percentages, the percentage of fatal accidents was greater in Bartlett than it was in Illinois that year. City-Data found that, out of every 100,000 people, the percentage of accidents that were fatal in Bartlett was about 15% – but it was just shy of 10% for all of Illinois. The percentage of fatalities was just about double for Bartlett over Illinois as a whole, too.

But why? What’s happening in Bartlett that’s different from other towns and cities across the state? We have a few ideas.

Wide, open roads aren’t always safer

We’ve certainly talked enough about the dangers drivers and pedestrians face on Chicago’s city streets, but the suburbs pose their own risks, with their roadways that mimic highways. There was a study done by Ohio State University which found “street segments that were classified as ‘open roads’ – those where the photos showed more visible sky, more roadway and more signs – had 48% more crashes that caused injury or death than those classified as ‘open residential.’”

Now, here’s a screenshot from Google Earth of the area where the deadly crash occurred last week (albeit from winter of last year):

That’s an open-looking road, isn’t it? If you search that intersection on a map, you’ll see that Rt 25 looks like this for miles, eventually turning into a two-lane roadway in one direction.

Rt 25 in particular needs some work

Rt 25 is a popular local truck route connected to multiple other highways (including I-90 and US 20). All that traffic can wear down a road over time, and Rt. 25 is no different. The cracks and fissures are clearly seen, and the lines (in some sections) are in need of repainting. It also lacks rumble strips and guardrails – two safety features that should be present on highways where trucks can travel. The wide shoulders are important in the event a vehicle is disabled, but in some areas, the roads slant off to the side; this is a good feature for reducing puddles, but it can also increase the risk of a driver losing control or rolling over.

There are a lot of teen drivers in this area

Statistically speaking, young drivers (between 16 and 19) are three times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than drivers who are at least 20 years old. That risk increases with each passenger in the vehicle. Even a teen driver who isn’t doing anything wrong is still at risk because of inexperience. They simply don’t have the knowledge or “muscle memory” that older drivers have. Their still-developing brains may not recognize the true risks and dangers of driving, either.

In May, four high school students were killed at an intersection in Wheeling. In June, it was a young couple in Hoffman Estates. So we know that it happens, and that it’s heartbreaking every time it does.

Now, let’s look at some other numbers.

Depending on the source, South Elgin High School has anywhere between 2700 and 2900 students. If we assume the numbers are roughly equal, that’s about 1400 students (at least) of driving age. We also Kenyon Road runs alongside the school, so it’s a fair assumption that taking Rt 25 to Kenyon Road would be a common way to get to school.

That’s a lot of young, inexperienced drivers trying to navigate a truck route just to get to school.

Intersections can be perilous, too

According to the Federal Highway Administration, “each year roughly one–quarter of traffic fatalities and about one–half of all traffic injuries in the United States are attributed to intersections.” The intersection at Kenyon and Rt 25 is what’s called a signalized intersection, meaning that it has traffic lights and a directional arrow (as opposed to a stop or yield sign or no signs at all). They account for about a third of all intersection-related deaths.

Part of the reason intersections are so dangerous is because there are multiple vehicles moving in multiple directions, and that alone increases the risk of a crash. However, the timing of the lights may plat a role as well. For example, in 2019, ABC 7 discovered that some of the traffic lights in the city of Chicago were much shorter than others. The reporters “timed traffic lights at intersections where cameras are present and found drivers had less time to legally get through an intersection in directions where cameras were watching. In one case, the green and yellow lights were only 20 seconds combined.” At other intersections, it was as much as 47 seconds combined.

We point this out because we don’t know how long the timer is on Rt. 25 and Kenyon, nor do we know if there are “triggers” to keep that light on.

How can we reduce the risk of injury or death for young drivers?

There are a lot of things the village of Bartlett (and any other city) could do to reduce the risk of car crashes, especially at intersections like the one at Kenyon Road. Some of those ideas include:

  • Repainting the lines on the road so it’s easier to see where the lanes are
  • Adding signs so drivers know an intersection is coming up
  • Adding rumble strips and/or guardrails to the roadway, including around the intersection
  • Adding flashing yellow arrows to signalized intersection lights to indicate when drivers should yield
  • Teaching young drivers about sharing the road with trucks, as this is different from sharing the road with other cars

As Chicago injury lawyers, we know firsthand how dangerous driving can be. We also know that there are families grieving today, and our hearts go out to them. We hope the investigation wraps up soon so that the community can get the answers it needs.

Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers is based in Chicago and serves all of Cook County and neighboring regions. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Chicago car accident attorney, please call or fill out our contact form.