Arkansas highway officials have initiated systemwide improvements at an estimated cost of $2.8 million with a focus on reducing wrong-way crashes on the state freeway system.
The holistic effort is designed to address a problem -- motorists entering freeways in the wrong direction -- that they say is as random as it is deadly.
An analysis of crashes covering 2009-13 that was performed by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department found 64 crashes of vehicles going the wrong way, including 13 that resulted in 20 people killed. Another 25 crashes involved serious injury, according to the analysis.
Seventy percent of the crashes occurred at night and 60 percent involved an impaired driver, the analysis found.
In the years covered by the analysis, an average of four fatalities occurred annually as a result of wrong-way crashes. But in 2015, eight people died as a result of wrong-way crashes, according to department data.
"Many of the wrong-way crashes are largely random, although more common on higher-volume routes in urban areas," Jesse Jones, an engineer who heads the agency's transportation, planning and policy division, said in a memorandum outlining the improvements. "For these reasons, a system approach to install low-cost safety improvements on Arkansas' freeways is warranted."
Last year's spike in crashes included one that fit the profile the analysis found: The crash occurred in an urban area at night and it involved an impaired driver.
The crash in the early hours of Sept. 15 on Interstate 530 in southern Pulaski County killed three people and injured four more, according to the Arkansas State Police.
Joseph DeSalvo, 44, of Maumelle was driving south in a northbound lane of I-530 when his 2004 Ford F-150 pickup struck a northbound 2003 Ford driven by James Latre Cobbs, 20, of Mabelvale, a state police report said.
DeSalvo, Cobbs and a passenger in Cobbs' vehicle -- Tekya Lavet Wright, 20, of Bryant -- died in the wreck, state police reported.
The collision caused an impact with a 2009 Honda driven by Ayla Bell, 22, of Arlington, who was also driving north.
Bell was injured, as were three passengers in Cobbs' vehicle: Tandria Smith, 25, of Conway; Kevin Fulton, 20, of Mabelvale; and Airreaina Ramos, 22, of Jacksonville, state police said.
The crash occurred south of Dixon Road near mile marker 3 at 2:19 a.m. Sunday, state police said.
The preliminary report didn't note where DeSalvo entered the northbound lanes of the interstate heading south, but a supplement to the final accident report from a Pulaski County sheriff's deputy, Andrew Holloway, said that Holloway first spotted the Ford F-150 traveling west on Interstate 30 in the eastbound lanes "as I was crossing the [Arkansas] river."
Holloway called communications to notify the state police and unsuccessfully tried to get the driver's attention first with his emergency lights and then with his spotlight.
"I kept a visual on the vehicle as we got onto I-530 and was relaying information to another deputy in an attempt to 'spike' the vehicle," a method in which law enforcement officers lay down a strip of spikes in an effort to disable a vehicle, he wrote. "Before the vehicle was spiked, the F-150 collided with the other vehicle at [approximately] 80 mph."
DeSalvo's blood-alcohol content later was determined to be 0.23 percent, which is nearly three times the minimum blood-alcohol content -- or 0.08 percent -- that a motorist is considered to be impaired, according to Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs.
The distance DeSalvo traveled the wrong way was about 5 miles from the I-30 bridge over the Arkansas River to I-530 and Dixon Road.
The spike in wrong-way crashes in the state also came during an annual review of all wrong-way crashes -- the result of a 2009 state law -- that includes checking crash sites and possible entry points for compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a federal document that is considered the rule for the specifications regarding traffic control devices that include pavement markings, signs and signals.
To reduce the likelihood of crashes involving vehicles entering a controlled-access road from the wrong direction, the document requires that:
• At least one "ONE WAY" sign for each direction of travel on the crossroad is placed where the exit ramp intersects the crossroad.
• At least one "DO NOT ENTER" sign is "conspicuously placed near the downstream end of the exit ramp in positions appropriate for full view of a road user starting to enter wrongly from the crossroad."
• At least one "WRONG WAY" sign shall be placed on the exit ramp facing a road user traveling in the wrong direction.
Following crashes, the department often has replaced older signs with ones that are larger and brighter. But a problem the department has encountered is that rarely has it been able to determine at what location a wrong-way driver has entered a freeway; it only has the crash locations, according to Danny Straessle, an agency spokesman.
Despite the signs and other deterrents, "individuals still find themselves going the wrong way, often times at a high rate of speed," he said. "At any rate of speed, that's not going to be a good outcome."
The department review concluded that other steps could be taken to provide more warning to motorists, with the focus on all exit ramps from freeways to be included, a total of 729, by the department's count.
"We often don't know where [a motorist] got on," Straessle said. "This overall approach was the very prudent one to take."
The proposed changes include:
• Replace WRONG WAY, DO NOT ENTER and ONE WAY signs at exit ramps with brighter sheeting and install them at a lower mounting height, which would allow them to be better illuminated by a vehicle's headlights and make them more visible at night. All told, those signs number 4,428, according to the department.
• Put down more noticeable wrong-way pavement arrows, directional arrows, yield lines and stop lines. A Virginia study showed that adding stop lines at exit ramps was "an effective wrong-way driving countermeasure," according to department documents.
• A line of ramp delineators -- reflectors on top of small poles -- would be added to both sides of the all off-ramps. Motorists going in the correct direction would see white delineators on the right and amber delineators on the left. Motorists going the wrong way would see red delineators on both sides of the ramp.
Straessle said that the $2.8 million in improvements include installing signs, new pavement markings and the delineators at all freeway exit ramps. The department likely will award a contract in the second half of 2016, Straessle said.
The sponsor of the 2009 state law, former state Rep. Beverly Pyle, R-Cedarville, said the idea of the law, which requires not only an annual review but improvements where warranted, came from a constituent who "had a good friend who had been killed in a wrong-way crash."
"I'm really glad to see the Highway Department trying to make our highways safer."
A Section on 02/08/2016
Print Headline: State looks to cut crashes of vehicles going wrong way