Runners and cyclists are increasingly huffing and puffing along the Charles Fraser Bridge. On Hilton Head Island, where the geography is flat, the toll bridge offers one of the only uphill challenges for the physically-active set.
But danger lurks with every passing car. Drivers, particularly out-of-town visitors, can easily be distracted by the picturesque view and fail to notice those along the bridge's shoulder. Other drivers who may be drowsy, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or fatigued. And inclement weather lessens even the most alert drivers' ability to see the edge of the road.
That's why it's good news for cyclists, runners and motorists alike that the S.C. Department of Transportation is installing elevated rumble strips along the bridge. These disc-shaped, plastic strips cause a car to vibrate and make a rumbling sound that's transmitted through the wheels into the car body. The intent is to alert inattentive drivers who are veering too close to the bridge's shoulder.
The rumbling is not enough to pop a tire, said Frank Babel, co-chairman of Hilton Head's Bicycle Advisory Committee, but it's enough to get a driver's attention -- even if they're answering the question, "Are we there yet?" for the millionth time from kids in the back seat.
Disagreement exists on the national scene whether rumble strips actually prevent wrecks or simply move them to farther down the road. And some worry the strips actually increase the likelihood of inattentive driving over time, negating any safety benefits.
Various studies have reached various conclusions.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration advocates their use as "an effective countermeasure for preventing roadway departure crashes ... When drivers stray from the travel lane, rumble strips rouse their attention to allow a safe recovery."
To us, it makes sense that jostling a distracted driver could be a life-saving tactic.
And the safety devices don't break the bank. The strips will cost the Department of Transportation $6,000.
It's also heartening that the strips are less likely to trip up cyclists as some other safety devices. Since they're above ground -- not milled into the road like ones that have caused bicycle accidents on S.C. 46 -- cyclists can navigate around them.
There is no perfect solution to distracted driving. Rumble strips are one more imperfect tool to help make the toll bridge safer for everyone.