Top 8 most dangerous miles of I-40 in East Tennessee

From January 2011 to August of 2021, there have been more than 14,700 crashes along I-40 in East Tennessee alone, according to officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 11:04 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - When you hit the road in Knoxville, there’s a good chance you’re taking I-40; 105 miles of the interstate cuts through the heart of East Tennessee.

From January 2011 to August of 2021, there have been more than 14,700 crashes along I-40 in East Tennessee alone, according to officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Of those crashes, 97 were deadly.

Of the top eight most dangerous miles of I-40, seven are in Knox County, according to THP.

“It’s a combination of the flow of traffic, people being distracted, speed, people being in a hurry, just not paying attention,” said Lt. Stacey Heatherly with THP.

Rounding out that list is mile 407, the Sevier County exit.

Heatherly said the biggest contributing factor to some of these crashes is cell phones and social media.

“The common way that people do communicate now which is through text,” said Heatherly. “You look at a lot of different variety of things that are actually on our cell phones now, so distracted driving is a huge problem and has really excelled in the last 10 years.”

Travel just 20 miles west and you’ll drive through the second most dangerous mile along the interstate. Mile 387, passing Western Avenue, with a total of 451 crashes.

Heatherly said one simple act can save your life behind the wheel, but not enough people are taking the time to do it.

“The lack of seat belt we’ve seen those increased this year. The lack of seat belt crashes with injuries and fatalities that we’re having,” said Heatherly. “It takes one second to buckle up.”

Not too far down the road is number six; mile 380 through West Hills. A section of road then-trooper Lowell Russell knows all too well.

“I drove up here on the exit ramp right behind me and I radared a car. I stopped the car for speeding and I’d written a speeding ticket,” said Rep. Russell. “After I had released the car to go on their way, I sat down in my patrol car, buckled my seatbelt and unfortunately, a tractor trailer driver fell asleep, veered over to the shoulder, struck my patrol car and knocked me 336 feet.”

The crash that nearly killed Russell nine years ago took place a little more than a mile away from the number one most dangerous mile of I-40: mile 378 around Cedar Bluff. The scene of 469 crashes over the past 10 years.

“It doesn’t surprise me, I-40 is as dangerous as it is, just simply because of the congestion,” said Russell.

“We’re out there looking to make sure that people are not distracted, not driving without their seat belts and making sure that they are not speeding on the roadways because that increases the chances of a fatality or being injured,” said Heatherly.

Mile 377 at Pellissippi Parkway comes in at number seven. That’s ahead of number five, mile 372, the stretch of road by the weigh station.

“We are statistically known as the second busiest scale division in the nation,” said Heatherly.

Numbers three and four mark the two miles around Watt Road, before the 40/75 split.

“You’re looking at you know commercial vehicles, big trucks, then you’re looking at all types of motorcycles, different types of smaller cars,” said Heatherly.

Miles 370 and 369 account for a combined 695 crashes. Most of which were front-to-rear incidents.

“When you get into traffic, people tend to start following too close,” said Heatherly.

Legislation like the Move Over Law and the Hands Free Law, have made a difference but to be safe on the road, everyone must do their part.

“Anytime I hear a siren or see blue lights, I’m reminded of the dangers of driving,” said Russell. “It’s just a reminder to me that, of course I need to pay attention to my surroundings as everybody else does. But I just hope that the message is crystal clear that we need to stay safe on the road and do what you can to keep us safe.”

If you find yourself in need of trooper’s assistance on the road, call *THP or *847. That number will directly connect you to the nearest dispatch office, so help can get to you as soon as a possible. Once you’ve dialed, make sure you’re waiting in a safe spot such as inside of your car or an area away from traffic.

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