Wrong-Way Collisions: Not Just Drunk Drivers to Blame
Wrong-way collision accidents are certainly not a common problem. But unfortunately, they are not all that rare either. And when they do happen, the price is exponentially high. Most result in death, and when life isn’t lost, there are always serious injuries. Many that leave people affected for the rest of their lives.
But for all the anti-drunk driving crackdowns and awareness campaigns, Michigan’s deadly wrong-way crash rate isn’t going down. In fact, according to Daniel Lee, the director of MSU’s Traffic Safety Programs, it’s been increasing. But why? Statistics show that there has been a decrease in Michigan’s drunk driving incidents. So what’s going on here?
According to Lee, it is the result of auto engineers who have moved ahead of traffic and transportation engineers in adapting and updating items for consumer use. In this case, specifically headlights on cars, versus signs on roads.
According to Lee, older model cars had wide beam headlights. But over time, due to new research, new designs and customer complaints, newer model cars have very tight, directional headlights. Beams that illuminate a more localized area. Usually a lower area. And as it happens, below the height at which traffic signs have been posted for decades.
According to Lee, this is a lack of communication. A breakdown in the message relayed by the traffic signs, and the message received by the driver. And certainly, alcohol often plays a role in this breakdown. Statistics provided by the National Transportation Safety Board show that 60% of wrong way accidents involve alcohol as a factor. But it is no longer the only factor.
The same statistical report also shows that over 75% of all wrong way collisions happen between 6 pm and 6 am. In the evening hours, morning hours, and during the night. So obviously, alcohol isn’t the only issue here.
According to Lee, if signs are mounted high up, under bridges or further back from the very edge of the road, where the directional beams are likely to catch them, they won’t be seen. Add in darkness as a factor, and any amount of driver inattention, distraction, or intoxicant will result in a poorly lit sign not being seen.
As a result, a driver could head the wrong way onto the highway via an unfamiliar ramp that they didn’t realize was for traffic going the other way. Or turn onto a one way street that they didn’t know was only meant for traffic going in the opposite direction. So while sobriety and attentive driving make for much safer roads, the position of traffic signs is probably a factor as well.
Texas is one of the many states that are working to address this issue, by moving their traffic signs closer to the ground. Hopefully in the future, Michigan will add this to their list of critical adjustments that need to be made, in order to further combat wrong-way collisions.