Local News

Wrong-way crashes on NC highways keep claiming lives

Posted January 19, 2018 12:56 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:41 p.m. EDT

— A car sped along Interstate 40 in the wrong direction for at least 9 miles late Thursday before colliding head-on with a pickup, killing two people, according to 911 calls.

Authorities said a Honda Civic with four people inside was eastbound in the westbound lanes of I-40 when it hit the pickup at the Wade Avenue interchange.

A Durham County 911 dispatcher called the 911 communications center in Raleigh at 11:35 p.m. to warn them the Civic was headed toward Raleigh.

"I think Davis [Drive] is the last place somebody saw it, but they said it was flying down the highway, a dark-colored, older-model Honda," the Durham dispatcher said. "We don't have any of our officers that are in the area that are probably going to be able to catch it before it hits Raleigh."

Three minutes later, an eastbound driver called Raleigh 911 to report the collision.

"I was going one direction. They were coming up beside me on the other side of the road, and I noticed them, and then they hit somebody," the man told the dispatcher. "I could tell they hit something because I could see, I could see a plume of something, I don't know what. So, they may have hit the rail, but I think it was another car."

One person in the Civic was pronounced dead at the scene, and a second died early Friday at a local hospital. The other two people in the Civic were being treated for injuries at WakeMed in Raleigh.

The pickup driver, who was on his way to spread salt in a parking lot, walked away with cuts and bruises.

Authorities said weather played no role in the crash, which closed westbound I-40 for six hours.

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Jim Trogdon said Friday that wrong-way crashes are a national problem, but the I-40 crash represents at least eight such collisions in the Triangle since last fall. According to the state Department of Transportation, there were more than 500 wrong-way crashes statewide between 2000 and 2016, with 145 people killed and another 643 injured.

"The only way we can detect a wrong-way driver is for it to be reported first by another driver, which is extremely difficult because of the speed and the time, or to catch it on our video cameras, which are limited in their location, and then how fast we can detect it," Trogdon said.

The state Department of Transportation is deploying technology on the N.C. Highway 540 toll road in western Wake County in coming weeks that officials hope will provide a better way to stop wrong-way drivers.

The experiment will use both cameras mounted on toll gantries and chips built into the roads to monitor and alert wrong-way drivers before a crash. Sixteen large signs will be linked along the highway and will light up and flash when cameras detect a driver going the wrong way. North Carolina Turnpike Authority staff also will monitor the cameras and be notified instantly via a pop-up message and email.

Authorities want to collect enough data to determine whether the system should be put on other highways across the state.

"No matter how much state government does, no matter how much a state agency does, a lot of it falls back on the responsibility of drivers," said Sgt. Michael Baker, spokesman for the State Highway Patrol.

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