BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB)- Post-Hurricane Michael, the roadways were covered in debris and downed power lines with many areas losing a significant amount of signage that not only made driving in Bay County confusing but also dangerous.
“We pushed over 300 troopers into the Panhandle and they were doing everything from going door to door and checking on people and making sure they were okay, pulling people out of their house, cutting trees, as well as directing traffic at those intersections,” said FHP Spokesperson, Lt. Robert Cannon.
Cannon says in the event of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael, response efforts are no joke. Troopers from all over the state of Florida flooded into the Florida Panhandle to provide any assistance they could. However, these officers weren’t the only ones on the roadways.
“We had an influx of out-of-towners. You’ve got contractors, roofers, people trying to get in here and provide relief or make a living, those kinds of things, and much of that happened immediately after the storm,” said Lt. Cannon.
With the increase in non-local traffic, it made the roads a little more dangerous. Officials with Florida Highway Patrol who record the amount and severity of crashes each year say they saw a significant increase in accidents in just the weeks following the storm.
“Since Hurricane Michael, we’ve seen an uptake of about 1,000 more total crashes, but the number of serious crashes and fatalities are tracking about the same,” said Lt. Cannon.
While the crashes can’t directly be contributed to the out of towners, officials say the amount of debris on the roadways and changes in driving circumstances post-storm could have very much played a part in the increase.
“When I rolled into town, I’ve lived here for many, many years and I couldn’t find my house because the street signs, the landmarks were all changed,” said Lt. Cannon.
The “new normal” appearance isn’t the only thing contributing to accidents in the area. In July, texting and driving in the state of Florida was moved to a primary offense, which means officers can now pull a driver over if they see a phone being used behind the wheel.
For years, distracted driving has been an issue across the nation and with the new law, officials hope the roadways will become a little bit safer.
“It distracts people, it’s dangerous. you just take your eyes off the road for a second… especially in traffic and it’s terrible,” said a visitor to the area, Terry Upson.
The increase in accidents throughout the years has been tragic. Officials say that even one crash is one too many. A tool recently introduced to Floridians that shows comparable data throughout the entire state puts into perspective the number of accidents we see every year. It’s called the FHP crash dashboard and it’s updated every quarter.