Wrong Way

Wrong Way accidents are rare, but ADOT says 1 in every 4 of them is fatal.

The accident March 27 on Interstate 10 that killed four people was allegedly caused by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 10. Arizona has seen a large number of wrong-way driving incidents in recent years, most of them in Maricopa County.

The problem of wrong-way drivers has reached the highest levels of Arizona government. Gov. Doug Ducey has spoken out on the subject, calling for action. On March 27, Gov. Ducey signed HB 2243, which makes wrong-way driving on the highways while impaired a felony.

Ducey said there have been too many accidents involving wrong-way drivers, and it mostly comes back to cases of impairment by drugs or alcohol.

“You’d think it was obvious by now, but to anyone out there who hasn’t gotten the memo:  booze, drugs and driving don’t mix,” Ducey said. “Your actions are beyond foolish- they are lethal, and we will not tolerate it.”

The March 27 was the third fatal wrong-way crash on I-10 in La Paz County since the start of 2018.

The accident came barely one year after another wrong-way accident on I-10 in La Paz County left three people dead. On March 24, 2018, an eastbound vehicle entered westbound I-10 at Milepost 31, which is near the interchange with U.S. Route 60. That vehicle collided head-on with another vehicle about 500 feet from the exit ramp.

The three people killed in the accident were all from Riverside, Calif.: Christine A. Bradbury, 31, Susan C. Bradbury, 55, and Caitline M. Cascella, 35.

The driver of the wrong-way vehicle, Dana M. Cavanaugh, 49, of Washington, Utah, survived the accident and was taken by ground ambulance to a hospital. He was charged with three counts of homicide and four counts of endangerment.

Another wrong-way driver on I-10 was killed Feb. 14, 2018 near Quartzsite. The DPS attempted a traffic stop on a GMC Yukon near milepost 24 that fled at high speed from the scene. The pickup crossed the median and collided head-on with a semi-truck hauling a flatbed trailer at milepost 44.

The driver of the Yukon, Corey Dixon, 47, of Los Angeles, was pronounced dead at the scene. It was later determined that Dixon was wanted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in connection with an attempted homicide earlier that day.

The DPS released a statement saying Dixon had a criminal record in several states.

Arizona has seen a large number of incidents and accidents involving wrong-way drivers in recent years. In a story on ktar.com in late December 2017, Col. Frank Milstead, the head of the DPS, said there were 1,721 such incidents in 2017. That was up from 1,589 in 2016.

Milstead said alcohol was involved in about 70 percent of these incidents.

A 2017 Arizona Department of Transportation study reported in Phoenix New Times said only 1 in 10,000 crashes involve a wrong-way driver, but 1 in 4 of these crashes are fatal. Two-thirds of wrong-way drivers are impaired, and 40 percent have a blood alcohol content more than double the legal limit.

Crashes peak in the early morning hours, around 1 or 2 a.m. They also peak on weekends. Two-thirds of wrong-way drivers are men, and most wrong-way drivers in Arizona are state residents.

On their website, that ADOT reports they have taken steps to address the threat of wrong-way drivers, including a thermal camera detection system on I-17. According to the Governor’s Office, the system has detected 12 wrong-way drivers just in 2019. None of these incidents involved the vehicle reaching the freeway or causing a crash.

ADOT has also installed more “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” on hundreds of freeway ramps in the Phoenix area and on rural state highways. They are also installing larger signs that are easier for drivers to see.

However, ADOT admits these measures alone will not be enough to end the problem. They said wrong-way incidents are often caused by bad behavior by drivers, such as driving while impaired or distracted.

“These measures can reduce risk, but can’t prevent wrong-way driving,” ADOT said on their website. “Two out of three wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers and often these drivers have blood-alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. This public safety issue will not be solved by only engineering and enforcement. We all need to work to keep impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.”


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