ROCKFORD, Mich. -- As state police continue to investigate the deadly wrong way crash on US-131 that killed two people last week, crash data from the past two years suggests wrong way crashes are random.
"It's one of those things that are tough for us because there just is no pattern," said F/Lt. Chris McIntire, Michigan State Police Rockford post commander.
According to state police data taken from the Traffic Crash Reporting System, in 2015 there were at least 35 wrong way crashes statewide, one deadly, and eight of which occurred in West Michigan. Last year the numbers almost mirrored 2015: at least 34 wrong way crashes reported, though five deadly, seven of which occurred in West Michigan in 2016.
Interestingly, this data shows only five wrong way drivers in 2016 were recorded as being distracted (via talking with a handheld device or using other technology in the car); otherwise, 13 drivers were listed as "not distracted," and nine as "unknown." Also, the average age of wrong way drivers statewide between the ages of 17 and 86 was 40-years-old.
"We don't see any problematic ramps themselves, where folks keep getting on those ramps over and over again going the wrong way," said McIntire. "It certainly is very random."
Even accounting for intoxication, police believe there is not one major underlying cause of wrong way crashes, which continue to occur at a consistent rate. McIntire says no one ramp in his region (Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon counties) is particularly problematic.
"If you're not distracted, I don't know how you can miss all those signs as you're passing," said McIntire. "You can see them as you're getting on the freeways, and people are getting off, there's signs everywhere."
And signs are everywhere: according to MDOT spokesperson John Richard, some of the infrastructure added in recent years includes:
- Seven 'Wrong Way' or 'Do Not Enter' signs on all wrong way ramps
- In West Michigan as of 2011, 'Wrong Way' and 'Do Not Enter' signs were lowered to a bottom height of four feet to improve visibility for impaired drivers; red reflective strips were added to signage posts; and wrong way arrows marking traffic flow were painted onto ramps' pavement
- As of 2013, the separator islands at partial clover ramps were painted yellow
“But the reality of it is we had ... fatal accidents last year from people going the wrong way on the freeway," said McIntire. "That’s just unacceptable.”
McIntire says they expect the toxicology results of the recent deadly wrong way crash in Kent County to be completed very soon.