Despite its twisting curves and often steep grades, the Taconic State Parkway is generally safer than similar roads in New York, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Fatal crashes such as the one Sunday in Briarcliff Manor that killed eight people, including a West Babylon woman and four children, are relatively rare on the Taconic, statistics show.

The crash killed more people in one tragic instant than had perished on the entire 105-mile parkway in the past two years.

In fact, the accident occurred in a parkway section rebuilt 16 years ago to improve safety.

Police still are not sure why Diane Schuler, 36, took a wrong turn off Pleasantville Road and drove south for nearly two miles in the Taconic's northbound lanes. She, her daughter and three nieces were killed, along with three Yonkers men.

Diane Schuler, 36, second from left, and her daughter Erin, 2, (held by her father, Daniel Schuler) died in a crash on the Taconic State Parkway on Sunday, July 26, 2009 that killed eight people. The Schulers' son, Bryan, 5, was the only survivor of the fatal crash that police said was caused by a drunk and high Diane Schuler. Photo Credit: Handout

The Taconic, which stretches from Westchester to Columbia counties, was the scene of 18 fatalities between 2004 and 2008. The deadliest of those years was 2006, with six fatalities.

The stretch between Briarcliff Manor and Mount Pleasant had a higher accident rate than adjacent sections before 1993, when the state completed a $14-million reconstruction of a two-mile section from just north of Washburn Road south to Route 117, said Allison Ackerman, a state transportation department spokeswoman.

Additional lanes were added, and Pleasantville Road, which previously intersected the Taconic, now runs beneath it.

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"The alignment of the road was significantly improved and was brought up to current highway standards" Ackerman said.

In the area one mile to the north and one mile to the south of Pleasantville Road, 45 people were injured in 176 accidents between 2004 and 2008, but no fatalities, she said.

The Taconic currently averages 1.41 accidents per million vehicle miles. Statewide, accident rates are 1.45 per million miles in urban areas and 1.79 per million miles in rural areas.

Still, Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for the AAA Auto Club of New York, said the parkway has problems such as blind curves, at-grade crossings, and sometimes confusing entrance and exit ramps.

"It's a very easy road to get confused on," he said. "It's an old road. Its inherent flaws and deficiencies render it a road that challenges one's driving abilities - and vehicle capabilities."