Wrong-way crashes: How new signs and technology will be used to battle these sometimes-deadly incidents

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Wrong-way crashes on area interstates cause concern

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

New signs and advanced technology are on the way to area interstates in Montgomery and Greene counties to prevent a deadly type of crash. But you might not notice the changes unless you are going the wrong way.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has made pavement markers and a second set of lower, wrong-way signs mandatory for interstate off-ramps in 17 counties, including Montgomery County and in Greene County, where new directional arrows have already been painted on exit ramps to alert motorists if they are headed the wrong way, according to ODOT.

“We’re trying to do anything we can do to catch the attention of these drivers before they get onto the roadway,” said Matt Bruning, ODOT spokesman. “(Wrong-way crashes) are extremely rare, but when they happen, they are usually catastrophic and deadly. That’s why we give them so much attention.”

MORE: Defying odds: 3 men survive Dayton wrong-way interstate crash

Ohio reported about 300,000 total crashes last year. Of those, just 25 or .01 percent were wrong-way. But of the 1,180 fatalities in 2017, wrong-way crashes accounted for 16, or 1.4 percent, of the fatalities.

This year, 21 wrong-way crashes resulting in 10 fatalities had been reported as of Friday, according to ODOT.

Within coming months, ODOT also will have a new radar system in place to alert wrong-way motorists – and authorities – on a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 71 between downtown Cincinnati and Fields Ertel Road in Hamilton County.

A motorist going the wrong way will trip a detector that sets off flashing LED lights around wrong-way signs, as well as signal the state patrol’s Traffic Management Center in Columbus.

“They will have an audible alarm that goes off in the TMC that someone has tripped the system so they can start looking for that vehicle,” Bruning said.

VIDEO: ODOT footage captures I-675 wrong-way driver moments before crash

ODOT plans to award the contract in September for a project expected to use more than 20 sensors.

Most wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers, which is the reason a second set of wrong-way signs is being placed low on posts not far off the ground, Bruning said.

“We know that when people are drunk – which makes up a vast majority of drivers involved in these crashes – they tend to look downward,” Bruning said. “So we are trying to catch their attention to hopefully alert them they are going the wrong way and to stop and turn around.”

The Montgomery County coroner ruled that Melvin Bonie, 69, of Beavercreek, had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system when he headed the wrong way on Interstate 675 from Ohio 48 last October, killing himself and taking the life of Kalip Grimm, a 2017 Miamisburg High School graduate less than a week away from his 19th birthday.

RELATED: Coroner: Wrong-way driver in I-675 double fatal was intoxicated

Alcohol may also have factored into one of the region’s deadliest wrong-way crashes.

James Pohlabeln, a 61-year-old retiree, had been released from jail just 33 hours earlier in connection with a separate 2016 suspected drunken driving crash when he crashed again – this time head-on into an SUV while driving the wrong way on Interstate 75 through downtown Dayton.

Pohlabeln died, as did four in the SUV: Kyle Canter , Earl Miller II , Vashti Nicole Brown and Devin Bachmann . Bachmann, Canter and Miller were members of the Dayton rock band CounterFlux.

MORE: Five dead on I-75: What you should remember

RELATED: Complete coverage: 5 dead in I-75 wrong-way crash

Pohlabeln’s blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s screening.

Bruning said the 17 counties getting the stepped-up efforts were selected after an analysis of the past decade’s crash data and other factors, including proximity to drinking establishments.

“They represent over 80 percent of the wrong-way crashes that we’ve had in the state of Ohio,” he said.

Drivers going the wrong direction are not always impaired by alcohol or drugs, but disoriented, said Lt. Matt Schmenk, the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Xenia Post commander.

“We occasionally get calls of a motorist getting on the interstate in the wrong direction,” he said. “Sometimes it might be an elderly driver … Sometimes where the on-ramp and off-ramp come off together they get confused on that. More signage in that area always helps.”

Schmenk said a directional arrow has been placed on the U.S. 35 exit ramp at U.S. 68.

It’s impossible to prevent all wrong-way driving, but the new measures should lower the possibilities, Schmenk said

“There’s always going to be a driver that gets a little bit confused. But the fact that ODOT is placing better signs is always helpful,” he said. “We are trying to make it safe for everybody.”


Counties targeted for wrong-way driver prevention efforts.

Belmont

Cuyahoga

Franklin

Greene

Hamilton

Jefferson

Lake

Licking

Lorain

Lucas

Mahoning

Montgomery

Richland

Stark

Summit

Trumbull

Wood

Source: Ohio Department of Transportation

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