Changes to exit ramps could be leading to fewer wrong-way driver deaths, FDOT says

Tampa Bay seeing fewer wrong-way driving deaths
Posted at 7:32 PM, Aug 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 21:17:36-04

Safety changes to three major exit ramps could be one of the major changes reducing wrong-way driving deaths in Tampa Bay.

In 2014, there was a sudden spike in wrong-way driving crashes in Florida, and in the Tampa Bay area in particular.  

Randy Geffon remembers when he came face to face with a wrong-way drive on I-275.

"You immediately felt in danger," he said. "Because a person is going the wrong way! Everyone is flashing their lights and honking their horns and they still keep going!"

One particularly horrific case was a fiery crash that killed four University of South Florida students, along with the wrong-way driver, who authorities later learned was as Daniel Lee Morris, 28, of Michigan.

Morris was driving an Expedition southbound in the northbound lanes of I-275 when he collided head-on with the Hyundai Sonata carrying the students just north of Busch Boulevard. It took several days for the driver to be identified because of the extensive fire damage.

In 2014 Tampa Bay alone experienced seven wrong-way crashes that resulted in 11 fatalities.  Some of the worst problem areas were the exit ramps at Bearss, Fletcher and Fowler, according to FDOT. People were turning onto the exit ramps in an effort to get on the interstate, leading to dangerous, potentially-deadly consequences.

To try to eliminate these tragic crashes, FDOT launched its $3 million Wrong Way Driving Mitigation Initiative, focusing on three areas—policy, infrastructure, and institutionalization. 

FDOT put in more flashing wrong-way signs alerting drivers, red reflectors on exit ramps to indicate drivers are heading the wrong way as well as better, more specific lane markings showing drivers the correct way to go.

Also FDOT's Traffic Control Center is alerted when a driver is going the wrong way. Immediately, law enforcement is dispatched and an alert goes out on the marquee over the interstate.

"Hopefully the driver sees the signs and corrects themselves but if they don't and they get in the interstate going to wrong way, the goal is to have a trooper there , hopefully within minutes," said Kris Carson with FDOT.

This "comprehensive and holistic approach" has resulted in a dramatic drop in Wrong Way Driving crashes in Tampa Bay, according to America's Transportation Awards.

The organization recently honored FDOTfor this pilot program. 

In 2015, there were no WWD crashes; in 2016 there was one WWD crash which resulted in two fatalities.

FDOT now plans to expand their wrong-way driver technology and is working with transportation researchers to better track wrong-way crashes.