Wrong-way crash study reveals high fatality rate, alcohol use

First Posted: 6/28/2013

Alcohol intoxication and nighttime driving are the most common factors contributing to recent wrong-way crashes on divided highways in Ohio, according to an analysis the Ohio State Highway Patrol has issued today.

Sixty wrong-way crashes between January, 2011 through April, 2013 the patrol researched resulted in 31 deaths and 85 non-fatal injuries. The 37 percent fatality rate for wrong-way crashes was more than 100 percent higher than the 0.35 percent share of all crashes in Ohio during that time, indicative of such crashes' severity, the patrol noted.

"Although they do not occur especially often, wrong-way crashes - particularly those on Interstate routes and other high-speed, divided roadways - are typically severe and result in the death or injury of innocent victims," the report's conclusions state. "This analysis has revealed a strong association between wrong-way driving and impaired driving."

The report advocated for increased enforcement efforts, stronger punitive measures, engineering strategies, public education and awareness, and new legislation aimed at reducing impaired driving as potentially effective ways to combat wrong-way driving.

Its analysis showed that the vast majority of nighttime wrong-way crashes involved intoxicated drivers, while the lesser number of wrong-way crashes in the daytime involved drivers who were not alcohol or drug impaired. There also was an age-related dividing line: wrong-way drivers under age 55 were mostly impaired, while older drivers in wrong-way crashes were not.

The highway patrol's findings are consistent with those released in previous studies finding that intoxication is the leading factor in wrong-way crashes, while older drivers who have become lost or confused represent a distinct sub-set.

Among wrong-way crash examples cited in the report was the March 2, 2012 collision on northbound I-75 in northern Wood County in which a wrong-way driver collided with a car carrying Bowling Green State University sorority sisters for a Spring Break trip. Three of the students died, while two others were seriously injured.

Wrong-way driver Winifred "Dawn" Lein, 69, who was determined not to be intoxicated, also was killed in the 2:15 a.m. collision. Investigators have been unable to explain why she was driving south in the freeway's northbound lanes.

Alcohol has been blamed in several other recent wrong-way crashes in northwest Ohio, however, including one on Christmas Day that killed Juan Garcia Jr., 26, of Toledo in a collision on southbound I-75 near Ottawa River Road. Adam Tunison, 41, of LaSalle, Mich., has been charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide in that case.

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