Tragic stories about wrong-way drivers and resultant horrific accidents on Sacramento freeways have been all over the news lately. Fourteen confirmed lives have been claimed this year in this region as a result, and another recent fatal crash is under investigation to determine whether a wrong-way driver was the cause.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics show that wrong-way drivers cause approximately 3% of collisions on divided highways. Despite the low percentage, that type of accident is far more likely to cause fatalities and/or catastrophic injuries.
Most wrong-way driving incidents occur at night and a significantly higher percentage of the involved at-fault drivers are found to be under the influence of alcohol.
The recent surge in these traumatic accidents in our region has generated a lot of chatter with regard to counter-measures. Some of the suggestions bandied about have included flashing neon “wrong way” signs and tire damage strips placed in the opposite direction at off-ramps.
Other cities, such as San Antonio, Texas, have implemented some strategies to address the risk of wrong-way driving. Many more wrong-way drivers were reported than actually caused accidents, so the city’s task force created a map illustrating the sites of wrong-way driver reports. They did this by combing, among other resources, 911 calls that included the phrase “wrong way”. Unfortunately, although there were over 350 calls reporting wrong-way drivers, only 5 documented the point of entry onto the highway, a crucial piece of information when trying to determine where to implement more intense preventative measures at the entry point.
Instead, the program identified an area of highway with the most in-progress wrong-way events reported and implemented a countermeasure program that involved equipping highway sections and exit ramps with radar units that could detect when a driver was going the wrong way and activate a “wrong-way” illuminated warning signs in both directions to alert not only the errant driver by vehicles that could encounter it. After 14 months, the data was analyzed and it showed a reduction of nearly 30# in wrong-way driving events.
The Texas Department of Transportation had originally considered using highway exits near areas that housed a high-concentration of drinking establishments (i.e., in Sacramento’s case, midtown), however investigation revealed that drunk drivers often entered the highway correctly at first, then later exited and attempted to re-enter in the wrong direction.
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