CLEVELAND — The Ohio Department of Transportation is continuing to conduct research after four separate reports of wrong-way drivers on area interstates this week, including one wrong-way driver that caused a horrific crash on I-90, killing three people. The spate of wrong-way drivers, which officials believe to be an anomaly, comes as ODOT is continuing to implement wrong-way driver detection systems in various locations across the state.
Just before midnight Sunday, 58-year-old Michael Kantos entered I-90 eastbound near West 25th Street and began heading westbound in the eastbound lanes. A few minutes later, Kantos collided head-on with a car driven by a 19-year-old man. There were three other passengers in the car. The impact of the crash was so violent debris was scattered across the highway. Both vehicles were nearly unrecognizable.
Police said Kantos, the driver of the other vehicle and one passenger, a 20-year-old woman, were pronounced dead at the scene. The two remaining passengers were rushed to Metro Hospital with critical injuries. According to Cleveland police, alcohol may have been a contributing factor.
Later this week, there were three more reports of wrong-way drivers on I-90 and I-71. None of those cases resulted in any incidents.
“Anytime we hear any reports of wrong way drivers, even if there isn’t an incident or crash like the horrific one that happened earlier this week, we try to track where those individuals accessed the highway at the wrong way,” said ODOT spokesperson Amanda McFarland. “We still want to track it to see if there is any sort of pattern in that area.”
Part of the research also includes assessing the number of ‘wrong way’ signs that are installed in the area where the driver entered the highway the wrong way. Oftentimes, the entrance and exit ramps contain numerous wrong way signs, sometimes more than a half-dozen of them.
Although wrong-way crashes account for a paltry 0.01% of all crashes across the state of Ohio, wrong-way crashes are 40 times more likely to result in a fatality, according to ODOT statistics. A vast majority of the wrong-way crashes occur at night. Additionally, alcohol is a contributing factor in a majority of the crashes.
“That’s something that is driver behavior. That’s not something we can change as an agency,” McFarland said. “We need drivers when they are getting behind the wheel to know if they are safe to drive.”
In an attempt to curb the number of wrong-way crashes and fatalities, ODOT has installed wrong-way detection systems along entrance and exit ramps in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. The only ramps equipped with this technology in the Cleveland area are near the Shoreway and West 28th Street.
The system flashes bright lights, warning drivers that they are heading the wrong way. Additionally, the system will alert local authorities of the wrong-way driver. In most cases, McFarland said the flashing lights are enough to get the driver to turn around.
ODOT decides where to place the wrong-way detection systems based on statistics.
“We have over 5,000 ramps across the state of Ohio. Outfitting them with this technology would be very costly,” McFarland said. “Spike strips are a common suggestion that we get here at the department of transportation from the public.”
Spike strips have been repeatedly tested by transportation officials in numerous states. However, the studies have repeatedly shown that spike strips are not designed to high-volume, high-speed traffic situations, including the interstate system.
According to one such study conducted by the Texas Department of Transportation, spike strips are especially susceptible to snow, ice, dirt and grime. The study also found the spike strips would become a hazard in the rain because of the lack of traction.
As for the effectiveness of spike strips, the study found the spikes, even when modified in shape, did not cause the tires to deflate quickly enough prevent the vehicle from entering the highway. The spike strips also proved to be a barrier in the event that emergency vehicles need to enter the highway the wrong way to get to a crash site.
Finally, the Texas DOT study found that even when functioning properly, the spike strip devices would pose and immediate hazard to motorcycles and small cars, even if they are traveling in the correct direction.
“It’s not completely feasible to work on something [spike strips] and that’s why these detector systems are more something we are looking into. We can control that. We’re definitely looking at things like that as ways to prevent these crashes,” McFarland said. “[Spike strips] are not being used in any state in the US. We’ve been looking at other places in the world who uses them on highways. We haven’t found anything like that either. We’re not the only state not using them.”