There are some things that just seem like they shouldn’t happen: doctors performing surgery on the wrong body parts, tires coming off of 18 wheelers or other cars and causing wrecks, and wrecks caused by people driving the wrong way on highways. And yet all of them occur over and over.
Sadly, this weekend was marred by another wrong-way driving death in Austin. Early Sunday morning, Round Rock driver Michael Mattioli managed to get on the 45 Toll Road the wrong way and collided head on with a car carrying Anthony Thomas and Garvin Campbell, two people much too young to have died.
This is only the latest in a nation-wide problem of people driving the wrong way on major highways. Perhaps the most famous deadly stretch in the country is the Dallas North Tollway, which has seen a number of traffic fatalities from wrong way drivers, but these problems occur all over the country. Some estimates suggest that 3% of the traffic fatalities in the U.S. are caused by wrong way drivers.
The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M has been one of the leaders in investigating these wrecks. What have they found?
- The most frequent origin of wrong-way incidents is the freeway exit ramp (i.e., a driver travels the opposite direction on an exit ramp onto the freeway main lanes)
- Crashes tend to be more severe and have a greater proportion resulting in death or serious injury than most other crash types on freeway facilities
- Elderly drivers are over-represented compared to their proportion of the driving population and their proportion of involvement in other crashes
- Male drivers are significantly more likely to be involved than female drivers
- Between 50 and 75 percent involve an impaired wrong-way driver who had been drinking or was under the influence of alchohol or drugs
- Crashes are more prevalent during non-dayling hours, particularly early in the morning
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy solution for these problems. Modification of roadways and signage are often expensive, and there is little that drivers can do to protect themselves.
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