Imagine driving along a dark stretch of a four-lane highway. A few taillights pass. Then suddenly, you see headlights suddenly flash. They’re right in front of you. It’s too late to do anything but brace.
It’s a nightmare that plays out all too often in real life for drivers in South Florida. The impact of these collisions are often violent. They are often fatal. Officials are forced to halt traffic on major highways for hours as they launch complex investigations and massive cleanup efforts.
It’s a scenario local law enforcement and other safety advocates are fighting to end.
An April 2015 wrong-way crash report by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on the issue revealed that from 2009 through 2013, there were 280 wrong-way crashes on the state’s expressways and freeways. These resulted in more than 400 serious injuries and 75 deaths.
Of those crashes, 45 percent involved at least one driver who was intoxicated by alcohol or drugs. Officials say this suggests the problem is primarily one of driver behavior, not faulty road design.
Still, officials are working to identify technological solutions that could help prevent drivers from making a fatal mistake. These involve the installation of high-tech, flashing “Wrong Way” signs at six Miami-Dade interchanges and 10 ramps. These locations are also affixed with cameras and sensors to alert law enforcement if someone manages to drive onto an off-ramp anyway.
There is at least some evidence it might be helping. In 2012, Broward county counted 167 wrong-way crashes. In 2015, there were 112 counted. In Miami-Dade County, there were 181 wrong-way crashes counted in 2014, when the figure peaked. Then last year, it was down to 168.
But that’s still a lot, especially for something that really should never happen. Even one of these deaths is too many. Ask Gary Catronio. His daughter, Marisa, and her friend were killed in a wrong-way crash just miles from his home. The wrong-way driver was another young woman, Kayla Mendoza, who had tweeted moments earlier that she was “2 drunk 2 care.” She’s now serving 24 years in prison.
Catronio, meanwhile, says he arrived on the scene that night after checking an app to track his daughter’s phone. He saw she was on the Sawgrass Expressway. A half hour later, that location dot hadn’t moved. There was an accident. He begged the officers to tell him there weren’t hearts on the license plate of the car. He waited four hours at the scene before he got the worst news of his life.
“I dropped,” he said.
Catronio now speaks at schools throughout South Florida, cautioning them of the dangers of drinking, distraction and driving.
Officials say getting through to drunk and distracted drivers means tunneling into their “cone of vision,” which is much smaller than for someone who is sober and alert.
At the interchanges and ramps where the new “Wrong Way” signs have been installed. The signs are large, red and rectangular. They’re powered by the sun and they send out signals to local troopers if a driver enters going the wrong direction. So far, the signs have caught 23 drivers. In all except one case, the drivers quickly realized their mistake and turned around.
In other areas of the state, the DOT is trying out long reflective strips on the road (kind of like the “Stop” bars you see at intersections). They would be white for those going the right way, but red for those going the wrong direction. They would also be solar powered and flash bright red at night.
Others have discussed spikes that would tear up the tires of anyone who enters the wrong way, but would only result in a gentle bump for those going the right way. Trouble is, sometimes emergency vehicles use those ramps going the wrong direction to get to crashes faster.
The best prevention, troopers say, is common sense, sobriety and alertness.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Road warriors look for a right way to prevent wrong-way wrecks, Jan. 19, 2016, By Alex Harris, The Miami Herald
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