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Statewide efforts to address wrong-way crashes in wake of Sunday's fatal on US-131

MDOT working with Michigan-based Continental USA on new technology through pilot program
Wrong way driver fatal crash
Posted at 6:54 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 19:20:12-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sunday morning's wrong-way crash on US-131 that killed a 21-year-old woman is just the latest example of an alarming trend seen across the country — more people are dying from wrong-way crashes in recent years, according to AAA.

Michigan State Police are investigating the crash on the Wyoming-Grand Rapids border than occurred at 3:15 a.m. on Sunday. While details are still limited, MSP said a 22-year-old driver was traveling south in the northbound lanes when they collided head-on with a 21-year-old driver.

The 21-year-old died, and the 22-year-old is still in critical condition in the hospital.

RELATED: 1 dead, 1 critical after wrong-way crash on NB US-131

This tragedy highlights a nationwide problem that shows we are headed in the wrong direction when it comes to wrong-way collisions. The latest data from AAA shows, on average, there were 500 people killed each year in wrong-way crashes from 2015-2018, for a total of more than 2,000 deaths in that span. That is a 34% increase from the previous four years, when there were 375 crashes on average each year from 2010-2014.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported 70% of these crashes come between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., with most of them happening on weekends. Both of those statistics are true about Sunday's crash.

Michigan Department of Transportation and AAA also say the majority of these crashes are the result of impaired driving. However, MSP hasn't confirmed if alcohol or drugs played a factor in this crash.

MDOT has been working to address these concerns and make the roads safer. Every single on and off ramp in the region has wrong-way arrows in the pavement. All 'Wrong Way' or 'Do Not Enter' signs have been lowered to four feet tall to be more visible. Plus, MDOT added red reflective strips to those signs to alert the driver when they are headed in the wrong direction.

MDOT has also teamed up with Michigan-based Continental USA on taking these preventative measures to the next level. There's a pilot program on the east side of the state on I-75 in Auburn Hills.

They installed a Wrong Way Detection and Alert System. Basically, the initial signs light up and tell the driver to turn around. If that doesn't work, a second set of signs will pick up the activity and send a signal straight to law enforcement dispatch. That way, first responders and get to the scene as quickly as possible.

Jonathan Stone, the company's lead on the project, knows the importance of the system firsthand.

“When I had my wrong way driver near miss, I had no idea," said Stone, the R&D Manager for Smart Infrastructure Systems at Continental USA. "You see the headlights ahead. Up until the last minute, you’re not sure if they’re in the other lane of traffic or if they’re in front of you. Then when you realize it, you have no time to react. So now, we’re giving people the opportunity to react. We are giving them the time to react to get out of the way and prevent a fatal crash.”

The technology was installed in December. It's still in its early stages, and usually takes about a year to gather the proper date. The hope is to show a shift in the trend, and then bring the technology to other parts of the state.

The NTSB said you can play a role as well. Make sure you're anticipating what's ahead of you, especially if you're driving late at night and on the weekends. If possible, they said to try and get all the way over into the far right lane, as most crashes occur near the center median.