CLEVELAND — A wrong-way driver tempted fate early Monday morning on I-480 near State Road and narrowly avoided causing a serious head-on collision in the westbound lanes, according to ODOT traffic camera video obtained by News 5 through a public records request. Monday’s near-miss, the second incident in the past six months involving a wrong-way driver near I-480 and State Road, comes as ODOT continues its efforts to curb the exceedingly rare but exceedingly dangerous issue of wrong-way traffic crashes.
Shortly before 12:15 a.m. on Monday, the driver of a white four-door sedan was heading south on State Road near the on-ramp to I-480 westbound. The traffic camera video shows the driver activate the car’s left turn signal before entering the exit ramp, which featured no fewer than four "wrong way" signs and a "do not enter" sign.
Forty seconds later, the driver of the sedan clipped the back of a small truck, which had swerved out of the way to avoid colliding with the wrong-way driver. There were no serious injuries.
In early December 2021, a suspected drunk driver also entered the exit ramp and began driving in the wrong direction on I-480. Fortunately, a state trooper spotted her and was able to perform a pursuit intervention technique, or PIT maneuver, before she caused a violent, head-on collision.
Although wrong-way crashes account for 0.01% of all traffic crashes statewide, they are 40 times more likely to result in serious injury or death.
“It is something that [ODOT] takes very seriously,” said ODOT spokesperson Amanda McFarland.
In recent years, ODOT has taken numerous steps to limit wrong-way crashes from happening, including the installation of additional "wrong way" signs on entry and exit ramps as well as additional signage that is located lower to the ground in order to be more present in drivers’ fields of view.
“We beefed up those signs and we also put them lower because statistics show that those that are impaired while behind the wheel tend to look down while driving,” McFarland said.
According to preliminary traffic crash data provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, there were nearly 1,000 wrong-way crashes on divided highways from 2016 through 2021. Those crashes, about a third of which involved an impaired driver, killed more than 130 people and injured around 800.
“Impaired driving is what causes the majority of these types of incidents. It’s literally like blindfolding yourself and throwing an arrow at a map to try to and figure out where the next one is going to occur,” McFarland said.
Over the past several years, the state has increased its efforts in collecting crash data and mapping wrong-way crashes in order to find commonalities. The tracking of that data led state leaders earlier this year to announce that ODOT would be installing up to 50 wrong way detection systems at 25 locations along the I-90 and I-71 corridors in the Cleveland area between West 150th Street and East 140th Street. Construction on the $1.8 million project should begin next year.
The wrong-way detection devices activate flashing lights to warn a driver that they are going the wrong way. The system, which also captures a small snippet of video to ensure the detection wasn’t a false alarm, also automatically notifies ODOT and the local police department.
“We are constantly tracking and monitoring where these incidents are occurring because we have seen such success in the Cincinnati area with this system. We do think if other corridors present themselves with the data that we’re tracking, we could certainly expand this system in Northeast Ohio and the Cleveland area specifically,” McFarland said. “In addition to the crash data and the wrong-way driver data that we looked at, we also looked at locations and ramps where there were alcohol establishments and restaurants that serve alcohol because, as we all know, that unfortunately plays a role in these wrong-way crashes.”