Westchester Struggles To Find Solution For Wrong Way Driving

  • Comments (19)
Double-posted “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs on an exit ramp. Photo Credit: NYSDOT

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- You are driving southbound down the highway as the sun begins to go down. Suddenly, you see the bright lights of another car coming northbound toward you.

Despite your warning honks and flashing, the car barrels past you, nearly hitting your car as it weaves through oncoming traffic.

This is horrifying situation is one some Westchester drivers have experienced in recent years as a result of wrong-way drivers.

Though wrong-way driving accidents existed long before 2009, the tragic story that caught the attention of Westchester, New York State and the nation was that of Diane Schuler,  a 36-year-old Long Island mother who crashed her car into an SUV on the Taconic Parkway near Briarcliff Manor, killing herself, her daughter, three nieces and the three passengers in the SUV.

The incident, which became the subject of an HBO documentary, was investigated in-depth, and it was discovered that Schuler was intoxicated by alcohol and marijuana.

Though Schuler had little to no reportable history of excessive alcohol and drug consumption, results suggested she had drank and smoked as soon as 15 minutes before the accident.

A study was initiated by the National Transportation Safety Board and released in 2012, showing that out of the 1,566 wrong-way drivers in fatal crashes, 60 percent (936 drivers) were classified as alcohol-related.

Of the 1,150 wrong-way drivers involved in fatal collisions with known BAC results, about 59 percent (684 drivers) had high BAC levels—at or above 0.15.

By contrast, of all drivers involved in fatal crashes on US public roads during the same time period, about

22 percent had BACs reported at or above 0.15.

According to Beau Duffy, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), because of the increased amount of wrong-way accidents in Westchester, the state has begun an initiative to add additional signage and markings in the Hudson Valley, specifically to the Taconic State Parkway, the Sprain Brook Parkway and the Palisades Parkway to prevent these accidents.

Duffy said, in total, 58 ramps across the three highways have had additional signs and pavement markings installed.

In neighboring Rockland County, the state has installed signs in Nyack that are monitored with Doppler radar, flashing if a driver is detected going the wrong way.

However, with impaired drivers being the No. 1 cause of wrong-way driving accidents, how effective can signs really be?

"Unfortunately, we find 60-75 percent of accidents are caused by intoxicated or inebriated drivers," he said, "But, with every accident, it's different."

According to Westchester County police spokesman Kieran O'Leary, drugs and alcohol are nearly ubiquitous in wrong-way driving cases that lead to accidents in Westchester.

While some drivers may drive the wrong way from confusion due to fog, otherwise poor weather conditions, lack of familiarity with the area and other factors, they will usually rectify their mistake if they are sober.

"Sober drivers who merge on the wrong side of the highway tend to realize their mistakes very quickly. Oftentimes they pull over and turn around within 25 feet," he said, "It's the ones that drive several miles and are completely zoned out on something that cause these accidents."

O'Leary said that, in the shadow of these tragedies, many people seek to identify one cause for the accident. In the case of Diane Schuler, perhaps such a tragedy would not have occurred had their been proper signage.

"All the signs in the world can't stop the consequences of impaired driving," he said, "There isn't one solution to cure this problem." 

O'Leary said that Westchester roads are plagued with impaired drivers more than ever, due to abuse of alcohol, prescription medication and marijuana at all hours of the day. 

"It used to be that you'd only see these kinds of things at night after last call, now it's not uncommon to see incidents occurring earlier - like at 11 a.m.," he said.

Because most wrong-way driving accidents are alcohol or drug related, Westchester County police generally pull over anyone they see driving the wrong way - even if they rectify it immediately.

"We put safety first. It is important for us to have conversations with those drivers," O'Leary said said.

The subject of wrong-way driving accidents is a sore one for the county police, as several officers have been killed or received career-ending injuries as a result of them.

O'Leary recalled an accident that happened as recently as three years ago, when an officer driving on the Bronx River Parkway was struck head-on and received career-ending injuries.

it is because of this and general concern for public safety that Westchester's police remain vigilant against impaired drivers, and cooperate with NYSDOT to make sure signage is effective and plentiful on state and county highways.

"We have a very good relationship with Westchester DOT and NYSDOT. Our cops report everything they see because they're always out in the streets," O'Leary said, "If a sign is down because of a storm, or some trees are blocking it, we have connections in place to report that and get it fixed." 

Though a solution has not made itself evident, both state and county officials appear to be working relentlessly to decrease the number of wrong-way driving accidents in Westchester. 

What do you think? Join the conversation below.

  • 19
    Comments

Comments (19)

MisterBill2:

I've noticed that a lot of the "WRONG WAY" signs are not angled very well and look the same when you're going the right way on the entrance ramp as when you're going the wrong way on the exit ramp next to it (since the sign is in the area between the two).

linda.jackson.5891:

Maybe a motion sensor triggered when entering the wrong way that lights up flashing and blinding lights or sirens. A signial would be sent to state or county officials with the info letting them know of the potential Wrong way driver. Hmm

bfadair:

On the back of the Speed limit signs and other signs there should be a "Wrong Way" Sign
The problem with spike strips is that they will freeze and jam in the cold, snowy weather. Not too sure how running over them at highway speeds will work.

tommy.meehan.77:

The problem with additional signs is, they won't register on the people who cause the fatal accidents. I was acquainted with Guy Bastardi who was killed by a wrong way driver on the TSP in 2009. The driver going the wrong way was oblivious to the fact all the other traffic in her lanes was ONCOMING. The driver was oblivious to drivers flashing their headlights at her, holding down their horn, yelling out the window. A couple drivers even said they swerved over at her in a vain attempt to force her off the road. None of this had any effect, none whatsoever. The wrong way driver, Diane Schuler, drove almost two miles the wrong way. In this kind of situation stickers on signs is not going to help.

Spike strips freezing or being jammed by ice and snow would be a problem, no doubt. But a problem that I'm sure engineers could solve.

roborob:

For the most problematic roads, SPIKES like those used by car rental garages and drive-in movie theaters!

MisterBill2:

So you'll put in spikes, cars will get stuck on the exit ramp after that happens, and then you can have a head-on collision with the first car trying to exit after that happens, and a pile up of other cars exiting after that. I don't think so.

tommy.meehan.77:

Installing spike strips sounds like the most sensible and effective solution. I agree, more signs won't eliminate the problem. Redesigning the highways is unnecessary and unfair to taxpayers. Wrong way driving is too rare. Compared to the tens of thousands of drivers who drive on Westchester's highways every day, how many end up going the wrong way? Plus there's no guarantee more signs or redesigned ramps would prevent wrong way drving anyway.

Installing spike strips will work in a way that signs and redesigned ramps won't. Spikes only require the driver to come up the ramp the wrong way. Then they have four shredded tires. Some of them will probably STILL keep going but probably slowly enough that they won't kill anyone.

I like it!

howardburkat1:

Regular Jeff is quite right that the roads are engineered badly and need to be improved. No doubt. But that will cost hundreds of millions. For a tiny fraction of that, we can really plaster signs on every ramp in Westchester and probably have it done in three months if we really wanted to. It's hard for me to think that wouldn't save lives.

tjkoovalloor:

I AM A VICTIM OF WRONG WAY DRIVING AND I CAN UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF IT. THIS NORMALLY HAPPENS TO SENIOR CITIZENS, INEXPERIENCED DRIVERS, AND EVEN TO DRUNKEN DRIVERS. PUT SOME ALARMS/ DEVICE WHICH COULD MAKE LOUDER SOUND SO THAT IT COULD ALERT OTHER DRIVERS AT ALL ENTRANCES OF ONE WAYS IN WESTCHESTER AREA, OR MAKE ENOUGH ROOM TO THOSE WHO BY MISTAKE ENTER INTO THE WRONG WAY, AND MAKE AN EXIT TO GET OUT WITHIN A 1000 FEET SO THAT THEY CAN GET OUT. IMPOSE SEVERE PENALTIES FROM THOSE WHO VIOLATE THE LAW, SO THAT IT WON'T AFFECT THE TAX PAYERS. THESE ARE MY SUGGESTIONS.

Activist Bill:

A reasonable first step would be to suspend the license of the offender, for a minimum period of one year. And once the license is reinstated, it should be probationary for another year. Of course this doesn't do any good if the offender is killed in an accident they cause.

jwikan:

Obviously, drunk driving is a big problem and speaking louder to a drunk "is" what you have to do to get through. I agree some of these parkway entrances are quite confusing and dangerous. As my wife said "I almost entered the wrong way in Briarcliff" I said "key word, almost". So....how do we get drivers to pay attention? texting etc.....has passed up drunk driving" Here is a start to the education. Please forward this great but chilling short documentary. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk1vCqfYpos

RegularJeff:

More signs are like speaking louder to someone who doesn't understand English. Obviously the ROADS are the confusing part. Fix the roads and the problem goes away.

howardburkat1:

The authorities come up with al sorts of explanations and statistics about why signs don't really solve the problem. And they may be right in some cases. But given a choice, I'd rather have more signs than the same number we have now or fewer signs. It just makes sense they will help at some point.

And we all know parkway entrances that are poorly signed or not signed at all. Let's work on them NOW.

KRider:

These are the best ideas I've heard.

The only real way to stop all these drunks and druggies from getting behind the wheel for good is if we allowed the family members of the people they injured or killed to beat them up in the courthouse and put it on Youtube. That's not going to happen anytime soon.

mooshymom:

Wrong way driving by the impaired driver possibly could be resolved by putting those spikes in the road that are located at some toll plazas and parking garages. They would be placed in such a spot so someone entering the wrong way would have their tires flattened before they could kill anyone, and yes their tires would be damaged but lives would be spared.
Also having something similarly happen to me in Chappaqua entering southbound on the Saw Mill pkwy, possibly if other signs are taken down and only the wrong way signs left up it would cause less confusion and distraction for the non-impaired driver especially if one is not familiar with the area .

littlericky34:

Except that then, they are a disabled vehicle facing the wrong way to oncoming traffic.

denise.ciotti:

I think if the Journal News prints their names and address that would stop it just like when they violated the privacy of law abiding gun owners

MisterBill2:

BS. People aren't going to think about that when they're in a state where they don't even notice that they're driving the wrong way.

tommy.meehan.77:

Agreed. People who don't notice ALL THE OTHER TRAFFIC is driving north while they're driving south are not going to notice WRONG WAY signs or think, "Gee if I get caught doing this, the JOURNAL-NEWS is going to publish my name."

They're not going to notice flashing lights or pay attention to a warning horn, either. I think the only effective method of stopping them is devising some way of disabling their vehicle.

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