Wrong-way drivers plague the Tampa Bay Area; FHP offers tips to avoid collisions

Posted at 10:15 AM, Oct 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-17 17:22:06-04

Each year, there are upwards of 400 wrong-way driving deaths in the United States. The Bay Area has been plagued by wrong-way drivers too, and in the majority of wrong-way crashes, vehicles hit head-on, resulting in 81 percent of all wrong-way fatalities. 

"We've had wrong-way crashes all over the Bay Area. On I-75, I-275, I-4 ... no one is immune from this," says Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Steve Gaskins.

After a fiery, wrong-way crash on I-275 that killed 4 USF students, the Florida Department of Transportation along with the Florida Highway Patrol and other local agencies have worked together to put the brakes on wrong-way drivers.

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"The educational component, combined with the enforcement, and the engineering are key components to making sure those numbers continue to drop," says Gaskins.

On the interstates and toll roads in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, there were 7 wrong-way crashes in 2014, 2 in 2015, 6 in 2016, and 6 so far this year. Those numbers don't include the hundreds of wrong-way crashes in other Bay Area counties or wrong-way incidents on city streets and highways. Still, FDOT and FHP agree the overall crash numbers are going down. 

Since 2014, FDOT installed new wrong-way signs, reflective arrows, and painted interstate shields at more than 150 interstate exits throughout most of the Bay Area. Some of the wrong-way signs are electronic and flash red lights if they sense a wrong-way driver. FHP says when the lights flash, 99% of drivers realize their mistake and turn around before entering the interstate in the wrong direction. 

In the event a driver does pass one of the electronic signs, some are equipped with cameras that will immediately alert traffic and transportation officials and FHP troopers in real time. Authorities are dispatched to the area and FDOT's overhead interstate signs update to alert other drivers of the situation.

"Time is of the essence, period. If you have two cars coming at each other at 60 or 70 miles per hour, you're looking at closure speeds of 120, 130, or 140 miles an hour. Things happen really fast on the interstates and, of course, our bodies are not designed to deal with those kind of impacts," says Gaskins. 

FHP says the majority of wrong-way drivers are under the influence of either drugs and/or alcohol and many are 2 or 3 times over the legal limit.

FHP offers a few ways to avoid a wrong-way driver and what to do should you find yourself in the path of a wrong-way driver.

"Stay Right At Night" 
Since most wrong-way driving crashes involve an impaired driver, other drivers on the roads between 11pm and 5am are advised to pay extra attention to their surroundings. By driving in the far right lane, you have a greater chance of avoiding a collision with a wrong-way driver, They tend to drive in what they think is their right lane, or your left lane. 

Pay Attention
Put down the phone, the coffee, the food, and anything else that makes you a distracted driver. Continuously scan the road for other drivers.

Slow Down, Move Over
If you find yourself face-to-face with headlights, slow down and move to the shoulder as quickly and safely as possible.

Call 911
When you're safe, call 911 and give dispatchers the most accurate information you can, including the wrong-way driver's direction, car color, and make and model. 

Wear Your Seatbelt
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of teens and adults who died in crashes in 2015 were unrestrained at the time of the crash.

Don't Drink and Drive
Use ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and taxi cabs.

"If you're going to go out there and have a good time and you're going to enjoy some alcohol that's fine, but we don't want to mix the drinking and the driving. That's the problem. Make a plan to get home safely without getting home behind the wheel," says Gaskins.