Report: Wrong-way crashes taking more lives on Ohio highways

There has been a nationwide and statewide increase in fatal wrong way crashes, “a persistent and devastating threat” that is getting worse, according to national crash data released this week.

There were more than 2,000 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, an average of approximately 500 deaths a year, an analysis of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS) data shows. That’s a 34% increase from the 375 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014.

Ohio is no exception, with 595 wrong-way crashes occurring on the state’s divided highways between 2011 and 2020, according to Ohio Department of Transportation data.

The state had 65 wrong-way crash fatalities between 2010 and 2014, with an average of 13 fatalities a year, AAAFTS data shows. It had 57 wrong-way-crash fatalities between 2015 and 2018 with an average of 14.3 fatalities a year, a 9.6% increase.

“Most of the time we have wrong crashes because people get on a ramp and go the wrong way or they do a U-Turn and get confused and go the wrong way,” said Pat Brown, driving school supervisor at AAA Allied Group.

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, Butler and Warren counties were listed in the Top 25 for the number of wrong-way crashes in 2019, according to ODOT data.

Warren County was ranked No. 20 after reporting six wrong-way crashes that led to three fatalities and three serious injuries.

Butler County, with four crashes, zero fatalities and two serious injuries, ranked No. 22.

Two other area counties, Hamilton and Montgomery, ranked No. 3 and No. 5, respectively, according to ODOT.

Local families have been impacted by fatal, wrong-way crashes.

In February 2020, a Middletown grandmother, mother and her son were killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 75 in Moraine. Betty Davis, 57, Amanda Kidwell, 36, and Brayden Jennings, 6, all from Middletown, were identified as the victims by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Brayden was a student at Wildwood Elementary School.

The crash happened just before 10 p.m. when a semi truck going northbound traveled into the southbound lanes and struck the other vehicle head-on by mile post 48, according to Moraine police.

Two years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, three members of a Mason family were killed by in a wrong-way crash, also on I-75 in Moraine.

Those killed: Timmy, 51, and Karen Thompson, 50, and Tessa Thompson, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at St. Susanna Parish School.

A wrong-way driver caused the crash, which was reported on I-75 between Dryden Road and South Dixie Drive according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

In March 2020, a Cincinnati man was charged with OVI after he drove a vehicle the wrong way on Ohio 129 in Butler County, a crash that resulted in no injuries.

Tanner Stephens, 19, of Birchwood Court in Cincinnati, entered Ohio 129 at Hampshire Drive about 9:50 a.m. traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes for about seven miles until his gray Honda Civic ended up in the median near the Cincinnati-Dayton Road exit, according to Sgt. Kim Peters.

The vehicle flipped over in the median near the Cincinnati-Dayton Road exit. Two other vehicles were involved, including one that spun out and one that was sideswiped.

The driver who caused a wrong-way crash that killed a Fairfield couple in April 2016 had a blood alcohol level 2.5 times the legal limit in Ohio, said Hamilton County Coroner’s Office.

Kory Wilson, 30, of Springfield Twp., was driving south in the northbound lanes on Interstate 75 early April 8 when he crashed head-on into a vehicle, killing himself and Nazif Shteiwi, 61, and his wife, Halla Odeh Shteiwi, 55.

Wilson’s BAC was .209, the coroner’s office said. Witnesses said Wilson was driving the correct way on I-75 in the Village of Evendale seconds before the crash, then abruptly turned around.

Having a passenger to help navigate, especially in an unfamiliar area, is also helpful in not having a driver get confused or lost while trying to determine the correct way to proceed, Brown said.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that happens and it’s on the rise and we need to try to get a better handle on it because most of those crashes that happen on those wrong-way (areas), especially on the highways, are usually fatal crashes,” Brown said.

Researchers found that the odds of being a wrong-way driver increased with alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger. AAAFTS research found that six in ten wrong-way crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver.

In Ohio, ODOT is working to prevent these wrong-way crashes by placing wrong-way signs lower on the poles, because research has shown that impaired drivers tend to look down instead of up. It’s also installing directional arrows on ramp pavement to indicate the traveled direction.

In 2019, ODOT installed the first wrong-way detection system along a 19-mile stretch of Interstate 71 in Hamilton County. It also have detectors on two ramps: I-670 westbound to Neil Avenue in Columbus and westbound Ohio 2 to West 28th Street in Cleveland, with those devices effectively stopping wrong-way drivers.

Those who spot a wrong-way driver should dial #677 to alert the Ohio State Highway Patrol, according to OSHP spokeswoman and Trooper Jessica McIntyre.