SEBRING - Which month has been the worst one so far this year for accidents in Highlands County and what day of the week and time?
Figures compiled by a Highlands County Sheriff's Office's law enforcement analyst provide an interesting glimpse into the anatomy of traffic accidents in Highlands County, where they tend to occur and why.
According to the monthly reports, 2,214 traffic accident calls for service were made between January and October, an average of 221 calls per month.
The worst month was February with 258 accident calls reported. The month with the fewest calls was August, with 173.
Within the City of Sebring's jurisdiction, there were two fatal accidents this year with three fatalities. Lake Placid's Police department recently told Highlands Today that the fatal accident on Thanksgiving Day was its fourth for the year. The sheriff's office did not have fatality figures available.
The sheriff's office data also suggested that accidents are most likely to occur on a Friday between noon and 4 p.m. Friday was the most common day of the week noted for accidents in five months out of the 10-month period.
The dubious award of second place went to Monday, when the most accidents occurred three months out of the 10-month period, either between noon and 4 p.m. or between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Friday and Monday both tied for the most number of accidents in April.
For February, the biggest accident month of the year so far, most accidents occurred on a Thursday between noon and 4 p.m.
Businesses along the U.S. 27 corridor don't need to crunch numbers to know a lot of accidents occur right on their doorstep.
The top areas in Sebring along the county's main artery for accidents included the area in front of Lakeshore Mall and the segment between New Life Way and Thunderbird Road.
According to Commander Steve Carr of the Sebring Police Department, the intersections of U.S. 27 and Sebring Parkway, Hammock Road, Lakeview Drive and Flare Road, are also top offenders.
In Avon Park, the most common intersections on U.S. 27 where accidents occurred in 2013 were Stryker Road, where road construction is taking place, and in front of Walmart.
Johny Joseph is the owner of the Shell gas station on the corner of Sparrow Avenue and U.S. 27 at the north end of Lakeshore Mall.
"There are a lot of accidents here," said Joseph, who recalled three or four years ago when a car accident at the intersection sent a vehicle flying off the road. It lodged itself between the two metal poles holding up the Shell sign. "One lady died here," he said.
At the same intersection, a Highlands Today reporter witnessed a near collision at 12:50 p.m. on a Tuesday.
A white older vehicle made a right-hand turn off of Sparrow Avenue to travel southbound on U.S. 27. At the same time, a silver sedan made a U-turn at the intersection, switching from northbound to southbound.
The two cars both headed for the middle southbound lane at the same time, but avoided colliding.
Carr said that's a frequent occurrence, but it doesn't typically lead to an accident. "Because it's at such a slow speed, they normally avoid each other," he stated.
In a situation like that, Carr clarified that the person with the green light (the U-turner) has the right of way, whereas the person with the red light (turning right at the light) must yield.
A few minutes later, a work vehicle made a similar U-turn from northbound to southbound U.S. 27, then quickly cut across all of the southbound lanes of traffic to zip into the Shell station.
On the same day, just after 1 p.m., a state trooper was witnessed with a white SUV pulled over just south of U.S. 27 and New Life Way/Bayview Street, another area noted for a large number of accidents.
A fender bender had occurred right in front of Robbins Nursery North, confirmed Beth Blessing.
"You just missed it. I was behind the sign watering," said Blessing, an employee of Robbins Nursery. She did not witness the crash, but "heard it hit."
"Nobody was hurt," Blessing went on, saying that a truck had failed to slow down enough at a red light and bumped into the white SUV in front of it.
Blessing has been working at the north Robbins location since June and said she hears a lot of honking, but hasn't seen any other accidents near the business. She does hear brakes squealing on occasion.
According to the sheriff's office statistics, the most common reason for accidents in 2013 so far has been "failure to obey a traffic control device," noted in seven out of the 10 months of data.
According to spokeswoman Nell Hays, that could mean running a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign or even disregarding a yield sign. The second most common reason listed was "unlawful speed," which was listed as the top cause of accidents in three out of the 10 months. That means that the perpetrator was exceeding the speed limit at the time of the accident, Hays clarified.
Chief Deputy Mark Shrader said right-of-way violations are also a big problem - drivers pulling out in front of other drivers who have the right of way. The sheer volume of traffic in the problem areas is also part of the problem.
Law enforcement recommended that defensive driving is the best way to avoid an accident.
County Engineer Ramon Gavarette agreed that volume is an issue. He said the county engineering department does have some input into matters affecting the flow of traffic as well as the timing of traffic lights, but final decisions are made by the Florida Department of Transportation.
"We have made numerous recommendations, and the honest truth is that DOT has worked very well with us," Gavarette said.
For example, the DOT approved and executed changes at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Flare Road, to improve the visibility of left turning drivers. Gavarette said the engineering department doesn't currently have any recommendations pending.
"There are only so many things you can do," short of an overpass or underpass, Gavarette said.
He suggested that permissive lights (lights that allow drivers to make left turns on a solid green rather than a green arrow) may cause confusion for some drivers, but that non-permissive lights could let traffic stack up in a left turn lane and spill into the left driving lane, which also creates a hazard.
In the 10-month period from January through October, the sheriff's office reported 219 traffic stops with arrests, 67 DUI arrests, 3,450 citations written and 3510 warnings issued.
Many readers on the Highlands Today Facebook page provided their opinion.
"It is not 27 that is the problem. The problem is people's driving. If they would just slow down and pay more attention, there wouldn't be so many accidents," wrote L. Kay Henderson
Kelly J. Johnson had this to say: "Has anyone looked at the timing of the lights? It seems that there is an increase in red-light running near the mall since the volume of cars coming out of the mall is so high and the light doesn't seem to be available very long for people turning onto US 27. I agree with the other posters that people are in a hurry but having a properly timed light to account for volume of traffic may help."
"The first problem is no public transportation, so there are MANY people on the road who should NOT be driving due to poor health and/or eyesight. Then, the construction at Stryker Road had been going on FOREVER! Third, the traffic lights are not programmed correctly for traffic to efficiently move through the county," wrote Julia Kouragian Newell.
Delia Payne reminded readers of this basic rule:
"It's the most wonderful time of the year! Does anyone remember the 'Watch out for the other guy' campaign? Now we not only watch out for the other guy we watch out for pedestrians and bikes as well. Drive safe everyone."