1 year later, tragedy shapes new FHP policies

Published On: Jan 29 2013 04:07:39 PM EST

One year ago Tuesday, 11 people died in a pileup crash on Interstate 75 near Gainesville.

A mixture of fog and smoke from a nearby wildfire created the dangerous conditions that made it nearly impossible for drivers to see, leading to the crashes.

A year later, the tragedy is shaping new policies at the Florida Highway Patrol.

The charred frames of trailers and the twisted metal of cars are a somber reminder of the tragedy.

FHP closed I-75 the night of the pileup, but by 3:30 a.m., conditions improved and the interstate was reopened over the objections of at least one trooper.

An investigation concluded poor communications among troopers contributed to the crash. FHP responded saying nothing it could have done would have changed the outcome.

FHP is remaining quiet on the terrible anniversary. A FHP spokesperson said the agency wouldn't comment because of possible future lawsuits. But actions speak louder than words, and FHP has already taken significant steps.

Each troop now has a watch supervisor in charge of monitoring conditions and will conduct annual reviews of its road closing procedures.

Some billboards are part of FHP's low visibility campaign, but maybe the biggest awareness weapon of them all is the tragedy itself.

Ray Watkins is a retired race car driver from England, where fog is a constant problem.

"I was surprised they didn't have all the signs out, very surprised," Watkins said of the pileup.

There are even more changes in the works. The Florida Department of Transportation has money to put digital warning signs in dangerous areas. There are also talks or putting closed circuit TV cameras on roadways to monitor conditions.


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