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Opinion: We must stop wrong way drivers now with Somerset crash as reminder

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This is an opinion piece submitted by a reader after learning of the recent tragedy in Somerset involving a wrong way driver.

We hear all the time about horrific and tragic accidents that happened on the local highways. None worse seem to be accidents involving innocent people affected by drivers going the wrong way on a roadway. We’ve recently read about a wrong way accident on Christmas that has tragically affected a local family.

This hits close to home for me. You see I have twice… faced wrong way drivers. The first was in the Spring of 1980 when I was driving with a friend on a sunny day on Route 24 North in Fall River just driving past the old Harbor Mall. I looked up and saw a car coming at us. We were in the right lane, and they passed us in the left lane going the wrong direction. All we could think of is how could someone get on the divided highway. I was lucky.

The second time was just last year when I was driving in the rotary on North Main Street in Fall River. In a split second, I saw a girl enter the rotary in the wrong direction (counterclockwise) and take the first exit off towards the industrial park. It was an absolute miracle that no one was on the road where she was crossing. If anyone had come around at that moment it would have been a disaster. I was lucky again.

According to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS), between 2010 and 2018 there were 2,921 fatal wrong-way crashes resulting in 3,885 deaths—an average of 430 deaths per year in the US. 60% of the accidents were alcohol-impaired drivers.

So how do we stop this from happening? Well, there are lots of new technologies from ignition code locks for cars, highway cameras, advanced drone and alert systems that are being applied to the problem. The problem is that wrong-way driving can occur on a variety of roadways including divided highways, freeways or arterial roads. Whether impaired or just not paying attention, someone could drive onto a roadway going the wrong direction very easily. The incidences happen so fast that even the most advanced technology can’t catch up with someone driving 70 mph the wrong way down the highway. Attempts to resolve this with technology are good, but not really effective.

So, what are the Massachusetts legislators doing? As reported at the recent National Conference of State Legislators in June, Massachusetts introduced a bill (HB 3435) that would require the Department of Transportation, alongside the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, to adopt and implement a program to mitigate the effects of wrong-way driving in the state. The program may include new highway safety technology, changes to highway design and capital improvements. The ways and means house and senate committees and house and senate co-chairs of the joint committee on transportation must receive the details of the program and make it publicly available by June 30, 2024. As of June 2023, the bill is still pending. This all sounds good except with the bill is still pending and from what it sounds like with the costs, the resolutions would take a long time to implement.

In a recent Massachusetts Wicked Local story by Seth Jacobson on February 13, 2023 (This MassDOT pilot program aims to prevent accidents involving wrong-way driving), Jacobson outlines the problem and asks Mass DOT what they are doing about it. Last year was another record-breaking year for fatalities on Massachusetts roadways, and the state Department of Transportation has started a program that aims to mitigate a particular type of accident that commonly leads to death: those that involve a motorist traveling in the wrong direction.

MassDOT Highway Division is planning to deploy a wrong-way vehicle detection (WWVD) system pilot project at 16 ramp locations that have been identified to possibly be more prone to wrong-way vehicle entries, said Kristin Pennucci, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

The $2.6 million pilot program project, which has already begun and features flashing warning lights on signs, is designed to alert drivers who are traveling in the wrong direction so they can correct their error before a serious accident occurs.

Within those roadways, interchange locations were reviewed based on design and configuration and 16 ramp locations were identified that may be most prone to wrong-way vehicle entries, she said. These areas include partial cloverleafs, tunnel ramps and isolated off-ramps. “Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are often fatal as they are typically head-on collisions,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in a 2021 AAA article. “And unfortunately, as the data shows, fatalities from these crashes are on the rise.” Pennucci said that in 2013, MassDOT tried a relatively low-cost method to reduce wrong-way vehicle incidents by installing oversized “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs and pavement marking arrows at 432 ramps in Massachusetts.

But the problem has persisted, and that is why the new detection program was instituted, she said. For the time being there are lots of “wrong-way” roadway signs, But I am sure that impaired drivers are not taking the time to read the signs or even understand what they are doing.

Ever since my first incident head-to-head with a wrong way driver it’s been in the back of my mind that there has to be a simple way to prevent people from getting on the road going the wrong way. I think that there is a very simple, easy to implement and low-cost solution that could be tested almost immediately. A couple of years ago the idea clicked in my head as I was renting a car at an airport, and I had to drive over retractable tire spikes to get out of the parking lot. There is no doubt that when you run over those spikes the wrong way, that pretty much ends your driving day.

My concept would be to use fix-mounted retractable tire spike strips on the off ramps of highways. If someone were to drive backwards on the off-ramp, they would shred their tires slowing the car down to a stop before affecting the cars on the highway. The beauty of the tire spikes is that they don’t require technology. They work 24/7. They stand guard against drunkenness, the Impaired, idiocy and the suicidal. If you cross over the spikes your tires get shredded with no debate. Your ability to maintain speed is eliminated and the dynamic is instantly changed putting the odds in favor of the other drivers on the highway.

The cost to implement is reasonably low compared to the technologies and monitoring that exist today. Retractable tire spike strips cost about $1,700 each and if you thought about the cost of cutting in the strip and implementing it you could probably get an interchange done in one day so that means in a month you could probably get 30 interchanges done on the highway and so on and so on. Let’s get this done and test it out!

Steve Thomas
Assonet

Primary correspondent for the Greater Fall River area, Jess focuses on human interest stories and investigations into political corruption. She is a former fill-in host and digital contributor at The Howie Carr Show, former host of The Jessica Machado Show and SouthCoast Tonight on WBSM in New Bedford, former blogger at The Herald News and a former fill-in host at WSAR in Fall River.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. MortisMaximus

    December 31, 2023 at 2:32 pm

    Pure insanity in response to this tragedy.

  2. Lin

    December 31, 2023 at 9:07 pm

    What is “insanity” is that this drunk driver who has murdered three innocent people is out on bail. The guy comes from New York; therefore, in addition to killing three people, he is a flight risk. Again, why is he not being held without bail until his court appearance on January 9??? What is the real message here? Get behind the wheel of a car, drunk, kill three people, injure others, come up with bail and you’re out free to take off if you wish. Disgusting. How about our legislatures stiffen the D.U.I. laws as a deterrent to drunk driving and causing wrong way accidents?

  3. Dr David

    January 1, 2024 at 1:41 pm

    I would imagine that since Massachusetts passed legislation granting ILLEGAL ALIENS the right to obtain a driver’s license ….. there will be many more wrong way crashes.

    Us majority white supremacists are not allowed to say it … but many of our hard working ‘migrants’ do enjoy muchos Cervezas after a day on a roof job or painting your house etc
    Many of the migrants come from rural areas with no sophisticated interstate and very lax traffic enforcement and many have not driven an automobile before arriving in the USA illegally as an ‘asylum seeker pending an admission status hearing’ (now with an average 5 year delay) so there will definitely be a spike in wrong way crashes and all sort of other crashes. But yes, the solution is for the state to require interlock ignition devices and monitoring devices on all automobiles, unless you are an illegal …..because that would be ‘racist’

  4. Moronic

    January 1, 2024 at 1:51 pm

    Ok. Let’s start with by NOT HANDING OUT DRIVERS LICENSES to illegals. THEN get drinkers of alcohol not to get drunk and drive on the wrong side of the road? This does not compute.

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