CLEVELAND — Although still extremely rare, wrong-way crashes continue to happen in Ohio and the state even experienced an increase in the total number of crashes and deaths in 2019, according to ODOT statistics. That data does not include a fiery wrong-way crash that happened on SR-176 North early Saturday morning that closed the highway for nearly three hours.
That wrong-way crash happened around 2:15am on Saturday in the northbound lanes of SR-176 as the driver of a Dodge Charger, who had apparently been involved in a crash just minutes before, drove southbound and crashed in the left lane, sparking a large fire. The identity of the driver and the driver’s condition both remain unknown. It is also unclear where the driver entered the highway the wrong direction.
Cleveland police are exploring whether the wrong-way driver is connected to sightings of an intoxicated driver earlier in the morning, according to police records. In general, ODOT spokesperson Amanda McFarland said the data shows a significant correlation between wrong-way crashes and intoxicated drivers.
“Unfortunately the statistics show that the majority of these crashes are caused by people under the influence of alcohol,” McFarland said. “Ultimately it’s those getting behind the wheel that are making these terrible choices.”
As News 5 reported in late 2019, ODOT has made significant upgrades to signage and striping across state highways in recent years. Additionally, ODOT has installed wrong-way driver detection systems in areas that have high numbers of drunk and wrong-way drivers. That includes the area around the Shoreway and West 28th Street in Cleveland.
When a wrong-way driver enters the exit ramp, the detection system will instantly notify Cleveland police, buying patrol officers time to possibly intercept the erroneous driver. According to data provided by Cleveland police, the detection system has been triggered by wrong-way drivers a total of 12 times from mid-January 2019 through November 2019. In nine of those incidents, the wrong-way driver backed up and no longer drove the wrong way.
“One of the great things about the engineers that are monitoring this is being able to see if there is [a pattern] and if these corridor improvements are proven successful, it’s something we could look into,” McFarland said. “Unfortunately any time [wrong way crashes] happen, while they make up .01 of all crashes statewide, they are almost always extremely extremely severe.”
According to ODOT data, there were 31 wrong-way crashes in 2019, resulting in 34 fatalities. That marks the highest totals since ODOT began aggressively addressing wrong-way crashes in 2016. For reference, there were more than 286,000 crashes across Ohio in 2019.
Since a spike in the number of wrong-way crashes between 2013 and 2015, the number of wrong-way crashes had been dropping dropped significantly. In 2016, there were 30 wrong-way crashes resulting in 18 deaths. In 2017 and 2018, there were 27 wrong-way crashes resulting in 16 and 15 deaths respectively. According to state statistics, there have been 316 wrong-way crashes statewide since 2013, compared to the nearly two million total crashes in the same time period.
“A lot of times we find [wrong way drivers] are traveling in the left lane, which is the fast lane. We do find, when we review the video and catch these wrong way drivers, we find a lot of near misses,” McFarland said.