The intersection of Racetrack Road and Skipper Avenue in Fort Walton Beach has gotten a lot of attention over the last couple of months.
- An analysis of traffic crash data at the intersection shows the area has become increasingly accident-prone in recent years.
The data, provided by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, shows 56 crashes at the intersection from 2020 through July 2023. In total, 114 vehicles along with 126 people were involved in these accidents that amounted to $518,000 in damages (not to mention the recent Taco Town sign.)
- 2020: 8 crashes
- 2021: 12 crashes
- 2022: 23 crashes
- 2023: 12 crashes (data through July)
Here’s a look at some key insights:
- 51 crashes occurred during daylight hours, while 5 happened either at dusk or at night.
- Most crashes (50) took place on dry roads.
- 39 crashes were related to the intersection.
- 20 involved distracted driving.
- 4 were hit-and-run.
- None were cited for aggressive driving, speeding, alcohol or drug related.
- 50 crashes involved passenger vehicles, while 4 involved commercial vehicles and 2 involved motorcycles.
- 27 involved a driver 65 or older.
- 11 involved a driver between 15-19 years old.
Racetrack Road is a State Road (SR 188) and can only be addressed by the State of Florida through the FDOT. The county cannot redesign or change a State of Florida intersection, according to Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, whose district this intersection falls within.
- “As your commissioner this is extremely concerning,” said Commissioner Ketchel. “We have numerous thoughts on why this may be an issue, however we are waiting for FDOT to report their findings.”
Back in May, Deputy Brian Muhlbach with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office dedicated several hours a day over a period of a couple weeks monitoring the intersection and conducted traffic stops of red light runners.
“I asked the drivers for an honest explanation of why they failed to stop at the red light,” he told Get The Coast. “The vast majority told me they simply didn’t see it. I also met with the Ocean City-Wright Fire Department to hear their thoughts, as they are usually the first responders to these crashes. Collectively, we agreed the main issue appears to be visibility of the traffic light itself.”
Muhlbach says 3 possible issues were identified as reasons that may have contributed to the traffic crashes at the intersection:
- There is a flashing yellow emergency signal on Racetrack Road at the entrance of Ocean-City Wright Fire Department, approximately 560 feet west of the intersection of Skipper Ave. When approaching the intersection from both directions, the emergency signal appears significantly brighter than the traffic signal at Skipper Avenue. This may cause motorists to focus on the emergency signal and fail to notice the traffic signal.
- As vehicles make right turns on a red light, as permitted by law onto Skipper Ave from eastbound Racetrack Rd, an assumption is made by motorists that the light has turned to green and they proceed into the intersection when in fact the light is still red.
- It has been noted that there are obstructions giving limited visibility of oncoming eastbound and westbound traffic on Racetrack Road. Motorists are unable to take evasive action should a vehicle run the red light traveling east or west.
According to the report, Deputy Muhlbach met with the Florida Department of Transportation and with the Ocean-City Wright Fire Department on two separate occasions at the intersection.
Collectively, they identified five possible solutions:
- Install traffic signal reflective backplates to improve visibility at the traffic lights, especially during daytime hours.
- Install “No Right Turn on Red” signage along the eastbound lanes.
- Install “Traffic Signal Ahead” signage east and west of the intersection.
- Trim or remove shrubbery causing visual obstructions in the northwest, northeast, and south west corners of the intersection.
- Install traffic signal pole lights east and west of the intersection as an extension of the existing traffic signal arms.
Muhlbach says his report was forwarded to FDOT to review, and is now in their hands to make improvements as they see fit.
As for the flashing emergency signal by the Ocean-City Wright Fire Department, Florida Law states that emergency arms must blink a continuous yellow until an emergency vehicle enters the roadway and then it must turn to red.
“As your Commissioner, I have advocated for swiftly addressing this intersection because it has become one of the most dangerous in Okaloosa County,” added Ketchel. “Until the Florida Department of Transportation addresses some of these much-needed changes, I ask you to proceed on Racetrack Road with extreme caution, especially when approaching this intersection from any direction.”