PIQUA, Ohio (WDTN) – Imagine being a trooper for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, when dispatch comes over your radio and states a wrong-way driver is on I-75.
This is a situation Lt. Joe Gebhart at the OSP Piqua post, and troopers throughout the Miami Valley, have dealt with dozens of times.
Sometimes it’s someone confused who goes down the wrong ramp, but realizes it before they get on the highway. Others, it’s someone impaired who has crossed the median and is head-on into highspeed traffic.
“It does happen,” Gebhart said. “I can tell you when we get those calls, we take them very serious.”
The options for stopping a wrong-way driver on the interstate are limited. Law enforcement can’t chase the driver the wrong way down the highway, or go down the opposite on-ramp, or drive across the median.
It takes split-second decision making and communication from law enforcement to make it to the next exit ahead of the driver.
“One conversation is to get ahead of it,” Gebhart said. “Get traffic shut down. Trying to respond when there are medians is problematic, you hope to get ahead of that.”
Gebhart said often a driver is elderly or fatigued, and the law enforcement can catch them before they cause an accident, or they self-correct themselves.
Impaired drivers – those under the influence of drugs and alcohol – are a different matter.
“(Those) are the real problem,” Gebhart said. “(If) you can’t catch them, unfortunately, the accident occurs before we get there.”
Safer roadways in rural counties
Wrong-way crashes aren’t just a highway problem. On rural roadways, particularly state and U.S. routes on two-lane roads, head-on crashes occur often and have high fatality rates.
Gebhart works at the Piqua post and covers large regions of Shelby and Miami counties.
“I would say it happens more often than on the interstate,” Gebhart said.
Passing is the biggest issue for head-on, wrong-way crashes on rural roads. Fatigue is also another issue.
Tips: Keeping safe on rural roadways
- On many state and U.S. routes, Ohio Department of Transportation has built rumble strips in the middle and sides of the roadways to alert drivers they’re either going over the center or off to the side.
- Head-on collisions happen more often on rural routes, but drivers have some room to maneuver. If an incoming driver is going left of center, drivers can always pull hard into the ditch or into a field if they can.
- Beware of passing. Cars coming down the road are closer than they appear. Passing semi-trucks is more dangerous given the length of the vehicle and the stopping distance.
- If you see vehicles weaving – on two-lane roads or the highway – don’t be afraid to call 911. Gebhart: “People call and say they don’t want to bother us, but it’s important. It gives us an opportunity to stop someone before they end up going the wrong way.”