I frequently write about the various offenses for which one can be issued a traffic ticket and the consequences that result from them. I do this because I want to help as many people as I can who get traffic tickets to receive a just outcome. I take that responsibility very seriously; after all, this is my job. I would, however, also like to inform other Florida drivers about various subjects that I come across, whether that be new traffic laws, changes to DUI and drug laws, or about the causes and effects of driving behaviors.
There are myriad driving behaviors that result in traffic accidents. Most of these accidents do not end up in injuries to the occupants of the vehicles involved. Unfortunately, a large number of these crashes do result in injuries and deaths every year. We hear or read about them on a nearly daily basis. All accidents are investigated by various law enforcement agencies, especially when a death occurs. Often, accidents that result in a fatality are attributed to speeding, driving while under the influence, or reckless driving.
There is, however, a type of accident that we don’t hear about very often, and those are the accidents that occur as the result of driving the wrong way on a roadway. A 2012 National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) report defines wrong-way driving as, “… vehicular movement along a travel lane in a direction opposing the legal flow of traffic on high-speed, divided highways or access ramps.”
The reason that we don’t hear about this type of traffic accident as frequently as others is because, frankly, they don’t occur as often as some of these other types of accidents do. Even though that is statistically true, they only account for 3% of accidents, they are of particular concern because the mortality rate in wrong-way accidents is tremendously higher than those found in other types of accidents. It is hard to say with certainty why these types of accidents are so much more lethal than many other kinds, but it is surely due to the fact that they are almost exclusively head-on or nearly head-on collisions.
There is also much conjecture as to the actual causes of wrong way accidents. One area of concern is construction sites. No matter what work is being done to roadways, it is very easy to find the changes in traffic patterns to be confusing. I know that there have been times when I have been uncertain of the correct path to travel until I progress closer to the construction site. Changing traffic patterns can be confusing enough, but when traffic is rerouted in an entirely different direction and the correct path to follow becomes unclear, it can be very confusing AND dangerous.
Another issue that may cause these horrific accidents can be that sometimes, access ramps are poorly marked. When this is coupled with some of the odd access interchanges that I have seen, it shouldn’t be surprising that an errant driver thinks he knows the direction he is traveling only to have it end in tragedy. Add other factors to the mix such as poor lighting, having to pass under bridges to get to the correct ramp, and signs that are not always apparent, and you end up with a recipe for disaster.
Research done on this type of accident indicates that alcohol and/or drugs also figure prominently into wrong way crashes. In a report published by the National Traffic Safety Board in 2012, their data showed the approximately 60% of those responsible for wrong way crashes were impaired by either alcohol or drugs with ½ to ¾ of them being caused by those who have a blood alcohol content of.08 or higher.
The drugs involved don’t necessarily mean illicit drugs, but can be prescribed for various illnesses. Even when taking medication correctly, often reactions may vary in individuals. There is also the consideration of how taking multiple medications effect drivers, yet, there is little to no real data that can predict how an individual’s body may react to the combination of medications.
The 2012 report is not the first study that the NTSB has conducted. In fact, they have been investigating the causes and effects of wrong way accidents since 1968. In the most recent study, they gleaned their data by analyzing information from 9 accidents that occurred in various states. Probably the most telling data that the report revealed was the small number of wrong way accidents that occur, yet the great number of fatalities they represent.
Due to the severity of these accidents, the State of Florida is working on coming up with a system to try to prevent these tragedies. Currently, there is a pilot program in the works in 15 locations including the Turnpike’s Homestead extension and Sawgrass Expressway that involves adding flashing lights to let drivers know that they are about to proceed in the wrong direction. This is phase one of what many hope will incorporate a 2 phase process. The second consideration is to install multiple pop-up poles across the lane that read “wrong way.” This is to make the driver realize that he or she is traveling in the wrong direction and make corrections before someone is injured. So far, there has been positive feedback about the program as it has interceded on 10 occasions as vehicles have attempted to travel in the wrong direction.
Turnpike spokesperson Chad Huff said, “I would say the circumstantial evidence is pretty good that the system is having some effect on driving behavior.”
Although Florida is ranked as third in the country for fatalities attributed to these horrendous accidents, is not the first state to try to resolve this issue. Rhode Island, New York, Virginia, and other states have already addressed this serious issue by utilizing similar systems or are considering addressing it by the installation of some type of warning system. One German car manufacturer has even taken strides to install warning systems in a couple of its car models. Each of these methods are different, but I have yet to see data that assesses their success or failure rate.
Unfortunately, when I was researching information for this article, I came across dozens of pictures of automobiles that had been involved in these types of accidents. Some were so horrific that they were virtually unrecognizable as vehicles, and there was little doubt that the crash resulted in someone’s death. The best hope of curtailing this issue is by the installation of some type of warning system which can be done inexpensively. Central Florida will be installing a system in five different locations to a cost of only $300,000. That cost is certainly a bargain when you consider the number of lives it can save.