Wrong-way crashes are rarer but deadlier
Wrong-way crashes on Ohio’s divided roads, though infrequent, generally are more severe than other types of wrecks and involve multiple vehicles, resulting in a fatality rate that’s much higher than the rate for overall crashes in the state, according to a State Highway Patrol analysis released Friday.
The patrol analyzed 60 crashes that occurred between January 2011 and April 2013 and resulted in 31 fatalities and 85 more injuries. The fatality rate for those crashes was 37 percent, or about 100 times the overall fatality rate for the 600,000 Ohio crashes during that time.
The report, which provides a statistical breakdown that supports what the patrol had noticed anecdotally, is aimed at better informing travelers, law enforcement, engineers and Ohio policymakers about circumstances of wrong-way crashes and the dangers such drivers pose on interstate highways and other high-speed roads.
“A lot of times, we never can understand really why it happened,” but the report points to some clues and commonalities, said Lt. Anne Ralston, a patrol spokeswoman.
All but a handful of the 60 crashes involved at least one vehicle other than the wrong-way traveler. More than 80 percent of the crashes happened at night, and more than half the wrong-way drivers were suspected of drug or alcohol impairment.
Increased enforcement and awareness, stronger penalties and new legislation all might help address the problem, the patrol concluded.
The report didn’t address whether highway configurations or road sign placement might have been factors in wrong-way wrecks. That piece of the puzzle sometimes remains elusive because it is often difficult to determine exactly where a driver began heading the wrong way, Ralston said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is scouting locations in Columbus and Dayton for a pilot program to use traffic camera equipment that might be capable of identifying wrong-way vehicles and alerting the state’s traffic management center, which could then ask law enforcement agencies to intervene, department spokeswoman Melissa Ayers said. The plan is to retrofit 24 cameras with the technology, at a cost of about $80,000, to see how it works with the state’s system, she said.
“We’re always looking for new ways to try to keep people from driving the wrong way,” Ayers said.
The department put up new signs last year in a five-county area around Toledo in an effort to prevent drivers from going the wrong way after a series of accidents. One, a March 2012 collision on Interstate 75, killed a wrong-way driver and three of the five Bowling Green State University sorority members in the vehicle she struck. The two surviving students were severely injured.