Barriers could save more lives

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2015

Over the last three years, three people have died in vehicle accidents on the Highway 6/278 bypass. People driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol were involved in both of these wrecks.

In October 2012, Ole Miss students William John Wheat and his sister, Katherine Sarah Wheat, were killed in a wreck when a vehicle crossed the median and hit their car head-on. Former Ole Miss student John Howard Strickland Jr. was sentenced to 25 years, with 13 suspended and 12 to serve in the death of the Wheats.

On Thanksgiving Day last month, Virginia Leanne Dillard of Pontotoc was killed when a vehicle crossed the median of the bypass, striking her vehicle. Patricia Guy of Memphis was arrested in the crash and charged with one count of aggravated DUI. Dillard was thrown from her vehicle and died at the scene.

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The families of these victims suffered tragic losses for no reason. Each driver who caused these wrecks made the choice to get behind the wheel while driving impaired. According to statistics from the National Traffic Safety Administration, 28 people will die today as a result of drunk driving crashes.

Our community has done a much better job keeping students and residents off of our roads after they have been drinking. Taxis, OUT buses, Pedi-cabs and other options are available for students and residents who have been celebrating on the Oxford Square and other sites. City leaders have decided to start a late-night OUT bus route that will give students another option to get safely back to campus.

One idea I would like to present that may have saved these lives as well as future lives is for our city and county leaders to try to work with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to put up cable barriers the entire length of the Highway 6/278 and Highway 7 bypasses.

You’ve seen these types of barriers, especially on Highway 78 and Interstate 55. These barriers, known as wire rope safety barriers (WRSB), consist of steel wire ropes mounted on weak posts. Their primary purpose is to prevent a vehicle from leaving the road and striking another object in the other lanes.

These barriers are relatively inexpensive compared to the traditional guardrails you see next to bridges or the concrete barriers located under overpasses.

They are becoming the most popular barrier systems in the medians of divided highways and have saved countless lives.

The Highway 6/278 bypass is used by 25,000 to 35,000 vehicles daily, according to statistics from the MDOT website regarding traffic count on certain highways. We all know that the bypass is taken by most people trying to avoid the congestion on West Jackson Avenue, especially when school is in session at Ole Miss. Anything that will add to the safety of drivers on the bypass should be considered.

Hopefully soon, MDOT and our city and county leaders can take a look at funding and installing wire rope safety barriers on the bypasses around Oxford. After all, there should be no price on saving a life.

Tim Phillips is publisher of the Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at