BERNARDSTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Wrong-way crashes are increasing.
According to the latest data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there were 2,008 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways nationwide between 2015 and 2018. That’s up 34% from the previous four years.
During that same time period in Massachusetts, there was a 75% increase in wrong-way crashes.
“Wrong-way crashes are extremely dangerous and often fatal and that’s because if there’s a wrong-way crash on a divided highway, it’s almost always a head-on crash, which of course, involves a tremendous force and is often fatal,” said Mary Maguire of AAA Northeast. “When you’re driving you’re focus should 100% be on the road and on your driving.”
According to AAA research, most wrong-way crashes involve an older driver, a driver who’s alone in the car, or one that’s impaired. Research shows the majority of wrong-way crashes nationwide have been caused by a driver with a BAC above the legal limit, which is 0.08%.
“In the past year, I’ve worked with someone who lost their loved one, a fiancé, to a wrong-way driver,” said Mary Kate DePampehillis, the program director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Massachusetts. “It’s absolutely devastating to know that these people can just change somebody’s life in an instant, unfortunately. It’s scary to know there are wrong-way drivers on the road.”
In January, a wrong-way crash on the Mass Pike in Blandford resulted in OUI charges against a woman from New York.
MassDOT has begun installing wrong-way vehicle detection systems on various highway exits throughout the state, including on I-91 in Bernardston. If someone goes up the ramp the wrong way, a camera will detect it and trigger flashing warning lights. It will be installed at 16 ramps that MassDOT and Massachusetts State Police have determined are more likely to see wrong-way entries. The installations should be complete by the end of spring.
It’s similar to the technology that has been in use in Rhode Island for almost eight years now. In 2015, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began installing detection systems on highway ramps. It will alert the driver and notify Rhode Island State Police that someone is driving the wrong way on the road. The cameras take a picture of the vehicle and send a message out to the overhead signs to warn other drivers.
RIDOT Traffic Safety Engineer Steven Pristawa said the systems detect wrong-way drivers about six times a month on the state’s 29 ramps that have a detection system.
“From a safety standpoint, we’ve been happy with it,” said Pristawa.
Out of the hundreds of wrong-way drivers that have triggered the detection system, one resulted in a crash. It was not fatal.
“We don’t want to see anyone die on our roads, so anything we can do to prevent them, we’re always happy with the result that can show that type of reduction in fatalities,” explained Pristawa.