New Ohio task force focuses on statewide wrong-way crashes

Deadly head-on crashes caused by a driver traveling the wrong way — they're crashes we've been tracking for a while, asking law enforcement and legislators what can be done to stop them and make the roads safer. 

There were 27 wrong way crashes in 2017 in Ohio. Seventeen of those were fatal. Thirty in 2016, 18 of which were fatal. According to ODOT, many involved a driver who was under the influence. 

With 288,551 total crashes last year, wrong-ways are considered rare. They make up less than 2 percent of deadly crashes.

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They're also considered incredibly dangerous and that is why the state is now prioritizing the crashes and taking a proactive approach through a Wrong Way Task Force — a partnership between ODOT, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and law enforcement with a focus on what can be done to put an end to them. 

"One of the things we wanted to do was bring together everybody who's involved from the law enforcement portion of this, from the transportation portion of this to get better data on where these incursions are happening," ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning told News 5. 

Bruning said they just got the ball rolling, with their first meeting just last week.

"The challenge is we've got more than 5,200 ramps in the state and we are searching for a needle in a haystack we aren't seeing repeat entries from a single point ramp," he said. 

However, they've already identified one problem — the need for data on the crashes when they don't result in crashes.

ODOT is not always alerted unless there's an accident.

"We have to rely on someone notifying us in some fashion," Bruning said. 

As far as tactics other states have used to minimize wrong ways, that we've reported in the past, like the use of sensors and speakers on the interstate in Arizona? We were told the challenge is finding the best location for a similar system.

As for the idea of spike strips, presented by some of Northeast Ohio's local first responders, ODOT has determined those will not work either. 

"It's not an option, they don't work for this function, they're not built for this function so spike strips are not something we are looking at," Bruning said. 

He added that they have identified an idea that could work — the use of flashing lights on ramps that alert a driver who is about to enter the wrong way.

"Hopefully that will catch their attention! The key is catching the attention of the wrong way driver to try to alert them they're going the wrong way," he said.

The only issue is where to put them. 

According to Bruning, right now ODOT's Wrong Way Task Force is focused on getting better data on wrong way drivers coupled with crash data to identify what ramps they should focus on. 

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