Reducing deadly wrong-way crashes

The numbers may be small, but that makes them no less startling, nor less tragic. There have been 10 fatal wrong-way crashes on Interstate 95 since 2010. Seven of those 10 have occurred in southeastern Connecticut. Most alarming: two double-fatal crashes occurred in Stonington within a recent four-month period.

Add to these numbers yet another fatal wrong-way crash that occurred on Route 9 in Essex in February. That accident also left a New London man seriously injured.

The Federal Highway Administration reports on average between 300 and 400 people annually die in wrong-way driving crashes throughout the country. In Connecticut between 2009 and 2011, the number of fatalities caused by wrong-way driving accidents exceeded national averages.

While statistics show the likelihood of meeting a wrong-way driver on a limited access highway remains low, the accidents these drivers cause occur at high speeds and generally are head on, making them more likely to result in fatalities. The emotional and physical trauma the crashes cause both to those involved and to those who witness the accidents, also cannot be underestimated.

Finding ways to reduce the likelihood of drivers entering Connecticut highways, especially I-95, in the wrong direction must be a priority for the state’s lawmakers and transportation officials. Fortunately, there are effective solutions. Other states that have grappled with these tragedies have discovered technology can significantly reduce the number of wrong-way drivers.

Rhode Island, for example, in 2015 installed wrong-way detection devices at 24 locations identified by police and transportation officials as high-risk for wrong-way driving. Four years later, state officials say there have been no fatal accidents caused by wrong-way drivers in those areas. In comparison, wrong-way driving accidents resulted in eight fatalities in those same areas in the previous five-year period. Between 2008 and 2015, there were 10 fatal wrong-way crashes in Rhode Island resulting in 13 deaths.

The technology detects when a vehicle enters a ramp in the wrong direction, activating a series of flashing signs alerting the wrong-way driver, other drivers on the highway and police.

Rhode Island officials say the devices are attention-grabbing enough to cause the vast majority of wrong-drivers to self-correct, that is, to turn around on the ramp before entering the highway.

Rhode Island’s system was modeled after a similar one in San Antonio, Texas, that reduced wrong-way driving incidents there by nearly a third. One Arizona state trooper familiar with a similar system installed in that state said in a television news report there that in some cases, the technology alerted drivers and police of a wrong-way driver a full five minutes before any 911 calls about the wrong-way driver were received.

In Connecticut, transportation officials who previously strove to reduce wrong-way crashes by standardizing pavement markings and signs on all highway exit ramps, are now talking with Rhode Island officials about the wrong-way motion detection system. We believe there is an urgent need for them to move as quickly as possible to install wrong-way driving technology on particularly high-risk highway exit ramps, such as in Stonington.

Of course, such a system may be costly. Rhode Island’s system cost $2 million. The state paid for the technology with federal highway funds.

Given the deadly results of wrong-way driving accidents and considering the proven effectiveness of these detection systems, we believe this technology would be a sound investment for Connecticut’s residents.

Note: This editorial was changed to show the correct number of wrong-way warning systems installed in Rhode Island.

 

 

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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