Traffic

DOT: No easy way to prevent wrong-way highway collisions

Posted December 23, 2015

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— At least five people have died in the last six months in wrong-way collisions on North Carolina highways. Although transportation officials have discussed for years how to prevent drivers from using exit ramps to get on a highway, they say there's no easy fix.

North Carolina highway ramps are equipped with one-way arrows and red Do Not Enter and Wrong Way signs, but statistics show dozens of crashes involving wrong-way drivers each year, including a jump from 26 to 39 last year.

On Tuesday, Jesus Leon Galera, 34, drove east in the westbound lanes of Interstate 440 in Raleigh and slammed into a car driven by Alejandro Mendez Gonzales, 21, killing both men.

In July, Chandler Michael Kania, 20, was driving north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 85 near Hillsborough when he slammed into a car carrying two women and two children. Three of them died.

In between those two incidents, a Sanderson High School student drove the wrong way on Interstate 540 in Raleigh and later crashed into a home after leading police on a chase, and a Raleigh woman was injured when a Meredith College student driving east in the westbound lanes of Interstate 40 in Garner hit her car, causing it to burst into flames.

"You can prevent anything, but you just can't believe it," said Antonio Mendez, a cousin of Gonzalez.

Florida, Texas and other states are investing millions of dollars to try and turn wrong-way drivers around. Efforts include lowering signs and adding flashing LED lights and even sensors that alert traffic dispatchers. In some cases, electronic signs can warn other drivers of the approaching danger.

WRAL News found a 2006 study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation on wrong-way crashes in which researchers concluded there were no reliable or cost-effective countermeasures to reduce such collisions. Instead, the study called for more drunken-driving prevention, noting that many wrong-way crashes involve impaired drivers.

A DOT spokesman said Wednesday that the agency is looking at other states' prevention measures, but so far, no specific changes are planned. He also ruled out the possibility of using spikes on highway ramps to flatten the tires of vehicles heading the wrong way, saying emergency vehicles often have to travel the opposite way on ramps and highways to get to crashes quickly.

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  • Bryan Ayers Dec 24, 2015
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    Head-on collisions on the highway due to vehicles traveling in opposite direction to traffic flow are not a regular occurrence... No changes required.

  • Aaron Whaley Dec 23, 2015
    user avatar

    Get some of those pop up bollards, if you head up the ramp the wrong way they will pop up and stop the person. They can be programmed to ignore emergency vehicles. I still think the one way spikes will work. Just how often do emergency vehicles actually have to go the wrong way? Not as often as we have head on collisions.