Recently, the Iowa Department of Transportation found that approximately 60% of wrong-way driving is alcohol related, according to a report by Route Fifty.
Wrong-way driving — where cars travel in the wrong direction on one-way roads — is a common problem on highways across the country, but officials typically only know about incidents when they result in a collision, notes the report. That makes it difficult to prevent or track the problem before crashes occur. But, innovative technologies could change that quandary.
A police officer named Willy Sorenson for Iowa DOT decided to evaluate the wrong-way driving situation.
He began accessing 911 call data from the area to confirm both the volume and general location of reports of wrong-way driving, which occurred most often on a 25-mile stretch of highway between the cities of Nevada and Boone. For four years, Sorenson attempted to address the problem through what he calls “low-cost treatments”—primarily increased signage near on- and off-ramps, including reflective placards reading “wrong way,” “one way,” and “do not enter.”
Four years into Sorenson’s research, the Iowa DOT announced plans to install cameras and traffic sensors along the same stretch of highway he was studying. Officials offered to configure the sensors in their planned locations to be able to detect wrong-way drivers.
The sensors provided some useful information, including clear indicators that most wrong-way driving incidents are occurring at intersections, rather than on-ramps.
Sorenson assembled his finding s and the department appropriated funding for two additional projects — $1.3 million in federal dollars for enhanced signs at 165 intersections across the state, and $300,000 instate funds for 60 new cameras to help pinpoint starting locations for wrong-way drivers.
The bottom line: The bulk of wrong-way drivers are also impaired drivers. Moreover, wrong-way driving crashes have higher fatality rates than other collisions — 1.34 deaths per incident, versus 1.1 for al other car crashes.
The enhanced technology allows Sorenson’s team to gather more detailed information about each car that drives the wrong way, including the path the car took, where it traveled, how far it got and whether the driver self-corrected without outside intervention. That information is valuable in building preventive measures that are uniquely tailored to each problematic intersection, notes the report.