Columbia resident Lisa Noll was driving home for lunch Wednesday morning when her trip took an unexpected detour.
“I don’t remember anything — just spinning,” she said. “It’s probably the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Noll, 21, was involved in a five-car pileup at the intersection of Nifong and Providence at 10:55 a.m. Wednesday. According to police, a white van heading south on Providence Road ran a red light, crashing into the passenger side of Noll’s sport utility vehicle, which was heading west on Nifong.
The crash set off a chain of collisions involving three other cars that were waiting at the stoplight. Police said Wednesday’s crash is not unusual at that intersection.
In 2002, Nifong and Providence was listed by police as the third-most-dangerous Columbia intersection, with 53 crashes during a 12-month period. The Stadium and Bernadette intersection was listed as the most dangerous, with 90 crashes in 2002.
While the 2003 numbers won’t be officially available for another two months, the number of crashes at the Nifong and Providence intersection dropped by nearly 50 percent last year to 29. Traffic officer Lyn Woolford attributes the drop to recent road improvements, which include more lanes and upgraded traffic signals.
“It’s been much improved since the redesign, and I think the numbers show that,” he said. “Congestion is not what it used to be, which has lowered driver frustration. Now, people aren’t taking chances as often as they used to.”
After Wednesday’s crash, Noll complained of knee pain and said she was headed to the hospital. The driver of the white van, Columbia resident Art Waters, 45, was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was treated and released. Waters also received a citation for a red-light violation. Police said nobody else was seriously hurt. It took about an hour for crews to fully clear the intersection.
Sgt. Timothy Moriarity, who supervises the traffic unit of the Columbia police department, is not surprised by the high number of intersection accidents.
“The sheer volume of traffic makes it vulnerable for having collisions,” he said.
Moriarity said failure to yield is the most common cause of crashes in Columbia. He urges motorists to drive defensively, especially at busy intersections.
“Red lights don’t stop people,” Moriarity said. “It behooves all people to drive defensively and look at the big picture of what’s going on at the intersection.”
Moriarity also suggests drivers allow adequate distance between vehicles when stopped at an intersection to avoid chain-reaction collisions like the one Wednesday morning.
“Get far enough behind them so you can see their rear tires,” he said.
According to police, Columbia averages about 10 crashes per day and in 2002 there were 3,496 accidents within city limits.
More disturbing to Moriarity is Columbia’s record number of fatality crashes in 2003. During the past three decades, police said, Columbia has averaged six crash-related deaths per year. In 2003, there were 18 traffic deaths.
Moriarity said he doesn’t know why there were so many deaths last year but thinks increased traffic might be a factor.
“There’s not enough roadways to handle the volume of people going from one side of town to the other,” he said.
LiPo Ching and Jackson Forderer contributed to this story.