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Seven Dead in CT in Three Weeks: Thoughts on Wrong-way Driving Accidents

By Philip R. Devlin.

(March 25, 2022) — In late February, there were two wrong-way crashes in Connecticut that resulted in six deaths. One crash occurred on I-91 near Meriden where a car was traveling south in the northbound lanes. The other accident killed four women in Hartford on I-84. In both instances the wrong way driver was in the left lane, traveling at night. On March 23, 2022, yet another wrong way driver on I-84 claimed a motorist’s life. That’s seven dead Connecticut motorists in less than a month.

Personally, I have encountered a wrong way driver on highways in Connecticut on four occasions. The first time occurred in August of 1995 on Route 8 near Winsted, CT. Our family was returning from a visit to Gettysburg and Hershey, PA. We were driving south on Rt 8 in the right lane — a 2 lane divided highway — when all of a sudden, we encountered a car going north in the passing lane. Very scary.

On two other occasions, I have encountered wrong way drivers while traveling on Rt 9 north from Old Saybrook. Once again, these drivers were going south in a northbound lane on a limited access, divided highway. Once again, both drivers were in the left lane. In both instances other drivers crashed into these people later on, and there were fatalities. Both wrong way drivers had entered the highway by going up the exit ramp at Beaver Meadow Rd in Haddam.

The most recent wrong way encounter happened to me when I was traveling south on Rt 5 in East Hartford two years ago. Once again, the wrong way driver was in the left-hand lane going north in a southbound lane on a limited access highway.

Deaths from wrong-way crashes have been rising in recent years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said in a recently released study that looked at the number of wrong-way crashes on divided highways nationwide.

Wrong-way driving crashes have caused 2,008 deaths nationwide between 2015 and 2018; that is an average of about 500 per year, compared with an average of 375 deaths per year from 2010- 2014, an increase of more than 33% in the four most recent years included in the study.

On February 25 in Goleta, California, a very brave California highway patrolman got a report of a wrong-way driver coming his way. Officer Leal deliberately crashed his Chevy SUV patrol car into the side of a wrong way driver on California 101, stopping her. It was 3:30 a.m., dark, and the driver was drunk. He probably saved someone’s life by risking his own.

The worst wrong-way accident in recent memory actually occurred at 1:30 in the afternoon on the Taconic State Parkway in Mt. Pleasant, NY. Diane Schuler, a 36 year-old mother of two, was driving a Ford Windstar van while intoxicated. Schuler, her daughter, and her three nieces were all killed, as well as three people in the car that she struck, while going the wrong way—a total of eight dead in one accident. Schuler was traveling at 85 mph when she crashed. How her five year- old son survived a crash like that is a miracle.

Some factors to think about and to learn from concerning wrong way accidents:

  • 60% of wrong way drivers are impaired by either alcohol or drugs. Other factors include elderly drivers who have visual problems or get confused. Weather can sometimes play a role as well.
  • About 70% of these accidents involving wrong way drivers occur at night.
  • The vast majority of these accidents involve a driver in your left lane, as these drivers think they are in their right lane.
  • Usually, wrong way drivers are driving alone. If passengers are present, often that other set of eyes can alert the driver to his/her mistake.
  • These accidents have an extremely high fatality rate as the crashes are usually head-on at highway speeds; furthermore, survivors often have horrific injuries requiring multiple surgeries and lengthy, painful recoveries.
  • Annually in Connecticut there are 39 crashes killing 49 people—1 every 9 days—the highest of any New England state; many others suffer terrible physical and mental injuries.
  • The most dangerous state for wrong way crashes is Texas, which averages 446 wrong way crashes with 609 fatalities each year—more than twice the statistics of California which has a much bigger population than Texas.
  • The safest places involving wrong-way accidents are Washington, D.C. (avg. of 0) and both Vermont and New Hampshire (about 2 each on avg.)

The absolutely most dangerous place for a wrong-way accident to occur is on a curve on a divided limited-access highway. You cannot see the car or its headlights coming at you until the very last moment; therefore, it is of the utmost importance for safety always to be in the right lane when rounding a curve on a highway, as the chances are very high that you won’t be in the lane in which you’ll find a wrong-way driver; furthermore, the right lane affords you room in the breakdown lane to take evasive action if necessary.

Finally, area drivers should always be alert when taking the Aircraft Rd exit (Exit 10) off of Rt 9 south—a popular Higganum exit. This exit has a blind curve as you drive on it. It would be very easy for a car to enter this exit the wrong way from Rt 154. A good idea would be to favor the right side of the exit ramp and, if driving at night and there is no vehicle in front of you, turn on your high beams so that a wrong way driver might notice you before it is too late.

Photo by Olivia Drake. 

Editor’s Note: In East Windsor last night, a teen was charged in a wrong-way driving incident on a highway ramp at 3:53 p.m. on Interstate 91 (he was traveling southbound on a northbound off-ramp and collided with another vehicle head-on). 

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