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Deadly wrong-way crashes have CHP, Caltrans looking for answers

A South San Francisco man was among the dead in a recent wrong-way accident near Sacramento — the fourth wrong-way crash in 2015. Three people in all died in that accident, bringing the total number of lives lost in wrong-way accidents this year to 14. Both state police and lawmakers are wondering if this is just an unusual cluster of crashes or a trend.

According to reports from the California Highway Patrol, each crash occurred after dark when the driver was alone in the car; in the three highway crashes, each driver entered from an exit ramp. In at least two of the four accidents, the wrong-way driver was intoxicated — one registered a 0.20 blood alcohol content level, more than double California’s legal limit. Officials suggest that dementia may be another contributing factor in this type of crash.

While each crash seems especially shocking, wrong-way accidents are relatively rare. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 49 wrong-way crashes left 69 people dead — less than 1 percent of all fatalities in the state’s motor vehicle accidents. During the same period, there were 237 crashes that left 346 people injured.

Officials are not sure what more can be done to reduce the risk. According to a Department of Transportation representative, freeway exit ramps are equipped with “wrong way” signs as well as red road reflectors that should alert drivers before they enter the freeway. Caltrans will review other options while one Assemblyman will ask legislators to support a bill to fund a more thorough study of safety measures in this state and elsewhere.

Drivers who find themselves on the road with a wrong-way driver should pull over to the right immediately and dial 911. The CHP recommends the right-hand lanes or shoulder because wrong-way drivers often stay in the fast lane — for them, it’s the slow lane. The challenge for officers is to reach the driver before there is an accident, so calling 911 immediately is critical.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Wrong-way freeway crashes send state officials scrambling for answers,” Tony Bizjak and Bill Lindelof, May 13, 2015

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