New traffic safety research targets wrong-way driving crashes

A Florida State University psychology professor has been researching how to prevent wrong-way driver crashes for the Florida Department of Transportation. His research indicates that advanced-technology pavement markers and “smarter” signs could help prevent wrong-way driving, especially among drivers who have been drinking.

Wrong-way drivers cause only about 3 percent of all traffic crashes, but those crashes result in approximately 27 times more fatalities than the average crash. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers, according to the Florida DOT.

The research was initiated after a particularly horrific wreck in February 2014. Early one morning, a drunk driver of a Ford Expedition SUV entered I-275 going the wrong way and continued driving against traffic for over 10 miles. Ultimately, the Expedition crashed head-on into a vehicle carrying four college students, killing all involved.

The FSU professor contributed his expertise in visual cognition and processing to identify technologies that would detect and prevent wrong-way driving incidents more effectively. If found effective, these technologies could be incorporated into new warning systems.

The professor’s team got some traction by installing additional signage ahead of the exit ramps which wrong-way drivers may enter. However, they also recognized the need for countermeasures that will grab the drivers’ attention once they begin driving against traffic so that they recognize their mistake sooner and turn around.

Examples of these countermeasures included radar-triggered signs that light up with a message when a wrong-way driver is detected, along with bright beacons flashing asynchronously. They were tested in simulators using real video of the professor navigating through the countermeasures. Visual and auditory distractions were used to simulate intoxication.

The results indicated that new, detection-triggered countermeasures are likely to be more effective than traditional signage. For example, one that seems promising is a sign that appears blank until a wrong-way driver is detected. At that point, it begins flashing “wrong way.”

“The flashing onset of something new is the most effective thing you can do to draw someone’s eyes and attention, and all of the most effective countermeasures used that technique,” the professor says. “People’s brains are hardwired to pay attention to things that abruptly appear, and virtually everything we tested with a red flashing light worked well.”

The Florida DOT says the research is helping the agency understand and test new safety technologies and will guide the choice of future traffic signs and pavement markers.

As we mentioned, over half of wrong-way drivers are intoxicated. If you have been injured by a wrong way driver or if you have been arrested for wrong-way driving and/or DUI, contact an experienced attorney.

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