Wrong-way crashes: What's being done to prevent dangerous crashes?

Wrong Way Crashes | I-Team Investigation

MIAMI VALLEY — In the last four years alone, 15 people have been killed in wrong-way crashes in the Dayton area.

The eight crashes that claimed those 15 lives have happened along Interstate 75, I-70 and I-675.

Just last week, the Ohio Department of Transportation addressed wrong-way crashes, which are 40 times more likely to be deadly that other crashes. The agency announced a new step it feels could potentially stop these crashes.

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Folks right here in the Miami Valley have felt the painful ripple effects of wrong-way crashes.

In February 2016, James Pohlabeln went south on I-75 north through downtown Dayton. He had a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit when he hit and killed a group of four friends in their SUV.

Wright State graduate, Jason Fricke was killed by a wrong-way driver on I-70 in Clark County in September 2013.

In March, Montgomery County prosecutors say Abby Michaels murdered a Mason family when she slammed into their car on purpose driving the wrong way on I-75 in Moraine on Saint Patrick's Day.

And just last month, Wright State student, Paige Patrick was killed by a wrong-way driver on I-675 in Beavercreek.

"(Wrong-way crashes) don't happen all the time. And that's a good thing. But when they do happen, they're typically going to end in a serious injury or a fatality," ODOT Press Secretary Matt Bruning said. "That's just because of the nature of them: two cars coming at each other, head-on at high speeds. That's just a recipe for a bad ending. And so we do everything we can to try to reduce the risk of that happening."

ODOT officials told News Center 7 what the agency does to try and stop wrong-way drivers.

First, you'll notice what are known as "raised pavement markers" on the road. The light from your headlights usually reflects white off of them, but they shine back red to a wrong-way driver. Plus, ODOT mandates at least one set of "Wrong Way" or "Do Not Enter" signs have to be posted at the top of highway exit ramps.

News Center 7 reporter and weekend anchor John Bedell and photojournalist Brad Lee hit the highways around the Dayton-area and checked more than 30 ramps. During their drive on I-675 and I-75 through Montgomery and Greene Counties, every ramp they checked had the required signage.

On top of those requirements, ODOT will soon mandate additional safety measures on ramps to try and stop wrong-way drivers in 17 Ohio counties.

Ramps in Cuyahoga, Belmont, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lake, Licking, Lorain, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Richland, Stark, Summit, Trumbull and Wood counties will need to have at least two sets of "Wrong Way" or "Do Not Enter" signs with reflective strips on the poles. Those ramps will also have arrows painted on the pavement pointing in the direction traffic is supposed to be flowing.

"Those [17 counties] are counties where you have higher population, higher number of vehicles traveling through. Obviously you're going to have a higher risk of somebody going the wrong way," Bruning said.

Just last week, ODOT announced a multi-million dollar expansion of a technology it had been piloting on two on ramps in the state: one in Columbus and the other in Cleveland.

A radar and camera system works to detect wrong-way drivers on ramps. When it senses a car going the wrong way, LED lights around "Wrong Way" or "Do Not Enter" signs on the ramp illuminate to try and get the driver's attention to stop them.

The systems also set off an audible alarm at ODOT's traffic center in Columbus showing workers live video of the incident. The live video can confirm false positive trips — or it can help ODOT workers let the state highway patrol know where the driver is so state troopers can try and stop them before a crash.

"We'll work to get traffic stopped coming toward that wrong-way driver," Lt. Brian Aller, the post commander at the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Springfield post, said. "We've done that before. Here in Springfield we've done that. We've also done that at Piqua where we've avoided some serious crashes by doing that."

ODOT announced on July 23 that the detection systems will now be installed on every ramp along an 18-mile stretch of I-71 in Hamilton County.

It's a lot of technology at work to try and stop this deadly problem, but ODOT says there is also an onus on drivers to save lives.

"You can only engineer so much," Bruning said. "At some point, the responsibility falls to the person holding the steering wheel, turning the keys to start the vehicle."

Beyond personal responsibility, ODOT leaders hope if the new wrong way detection systems are successful, the lasting ripple effects will replace lives lost with lives saved.