Wrong-way drivers leave Bowling Green community with questionsAuthor: Rachel | Filed under: BGSU, Enterprise Story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor
By: Rachel Ausperk
In a matter of 11 days, three wrong-way drivers on Toledo area freeways have gained the attention of the Bowling Green community causing people to wonder if we are doing everything we can to prevent them. After tragedies like the accident that killed three Bowling Green State University students, people usually blame something or someone to explain why they happen.
The first crash occurred on I-75, just south of Toledo, which claimed the lives of the wrong-way driver and three BGSU sorority sisters on March 2, 2012. Two other students were seriously injured. The following crash took the lives of the driver and his passenger while going the wrong way on I-75, near Monroe, after colliding with a semitrailer. On March 7, 2012, the third incident occurred when a woman entered I-475 headed the wrong way towards Perrysburg and was later charged with drunken driving.
Despite the recent occurrences, law enforcement says wrong-way crashes are rare.
Lt. Dean Laubacher, post commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said that there has not been a rise in the number of wrong-way accidents, but that the public has been more aware of it because of a tragedy.
“When we arrest people for driving the wrong way and there’s no crash, there’s no publicity to it. Unfortunately, we had a very highly publicized event occur that brought attention to wrong-way drivers,” Laubacher said.
Theresa Pollick, Public Information Officer at the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), stated in an e-mail that wrong-way crashes are relatively infrequent, but they are more likely to produce serious injuries and fatalities as compared to other types of freeway crashes.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s 2009 report indicates that driving the wrong way in one-way traffic or wrong side of road factored into 3.1 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S, pollick stated in an e-mail.
Pollick said that there are trends regarding wrong-way accidents on the interstate.
Between 50 and 75 percent involve an impaired wrong-way driver who had been drinking or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and crashes are more prevalent during non-daylight hours, particularly the early morning hours following midnight, Pollick said in an e-mail.
“Statistically, usually the drivers of these accidents fall into two categories,” Laubacher said. “Age comes into factor, as well as some sort of medical or physical condition. The other reason might be suicidal.”
A medical condition the driver could be in is an epileptic state where they become in a trance and all they do is just continue to go straight until they come out of that epileptic state. Diabetic shock is another condition where they know what they’re doing, but they don’t know what they’re doing, Laubacher said.
According to Laubacher, it is very difficult for the Ohio State Highway Patrol to prove suicide because the driver must leave a note.
Laubacher said that the areas they can address are the impaired drivers in regards to drugs and alcohol.
“It’s on our shoulder’s and law enforcement’s shoulders to arrest people for being impaired, and try and arrest them before they’re getting on or going the wrong way on the interstate,” Laubacher said.
Pollick said in an e-mail that driving the wrong way on freeways has been a nagging traffic safety problem since the advent of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Despite over half a century of highway design, marking and signing improvements at freeway interchanges, the problem (and too often the deadly consequences) of wrong-way driving persists.
“Does it bother us? Yes. The highway patrol’s mission is to reduce the number of crashes that occur. Not just crashes, but crashes that involve serious injuries and fatalities. We know we can’t prevent crashes from occurring. The four people that lost their lives—how could we have prevented that? That’s what we look at,” Laubacher said.
“I think it’s a shame that nothing has been done to prevent wrong way accidents. The city of Toledo should have done something to prevent this problem after the first accident,” said Kali Casale, 20, BGSU Alpha Xi Delta Sorority member.
Michael Stormer, ODOT District Two Planning Engineer, said in an e-mail that ODOT is reviewing a number of countermeasures including additional paint, illuminated signs or reflective raised pavement markers. They are also exploring new technologies.
Laubacher said that medically and physically impaired drivers’ eyes focus about 3 feet up off the roadway, so ODOT looks to see if they should put wrong-way driver signs lower.
ODOT complies with the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) with the placement wrong way signage, one-way signage, pavement markings etc, Pollick said in an email. According the manual:
The MUTCD contains the national standards governing all traffic control devices. All public agencies and owners of private roads open to public travel across the nation rely on the MUTCD to bring uniformity to the roadway. The MUTCD plays a critical role in improving safety and mobility of all road users.
According to a study conducted by The Texas Department of Transportation on countermeasures for wrong way crashes, one common suggestion to prevent wrong-way drivers is to place spikes strip devices normally seen at the exits for paid parking lots on freeway exit ramps.
The study states that there are 10 reasons why spike strip devices are not recommended for use by the highway system due to significant risk the installation of such a device would create for drivers traveling the correct direction on ramps. Some of the major reasons include:
- During testing, the spikes did not cause the tires to deflate quickly enough to prevent a vehicle from entering the freeway.
- During testing, under high-volume and high-speed traffic conditions, the spikes broke, leaving stubs that damaged the tires of right-way vehicles.
- Even when functioning properly, the devices would pose an immediate hazard to motorcycles and small cars exiting in the correct direction.
Laubacher said that they could put spike strips out there to deflate tires, but there are too many other variables. For example, who is going to pay for tires if somebody inadvertently gets their tires flattened?
With the three recent wrong-way driver incidents, citizens have looked to law enforcement agencies to prevent future incidents of crashes from happening.
It is evident that there are major limitations to the amount of safety controls that authorities can use on the highways, and they are doing what they can to prevent wrong-way drivers as much as possible.
Safety is a priority at ODOT. We take each highway fatality, weather its rural accident or interstate wrong-way crash seriously, Stormer said in an e-mail.
“The accident hit me extremely hard as well as my entire sorority. We were all extremely close to the three girls, and we all miss them so much. Nothing has been the same without them,” Casale said.