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Wrong Way Crash Combat: National Transportation Safety Board Takes Action

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s a growing problem in Maryland and across the country. Drivers who get on the road going the wrong way causing horrendous head-on car crashes.

WJZ investigates a problem so bad the National Transportation Safety Board is taking action.

Adam May looks at what can be done to stop these crashes that are tearing apart hundreds of families.

Wrong way car crashes are a danger threatening innocent drivers. Some 360 Americans are killed every year.

“You never think something like that will happen to you, but it happens to a lot of people,” said Eduardo Lara.

Last year, Lara lost his partner of 31 years.

Terry Davis was driving down Route 50 in Anne Arundel County when a car carrying three teenagers smashed into Davis head-on.

No one survived.

“All they really had do was pull over and make a u-turn. That’s it. Make a u-turn and head in the right direction,” Lara said. “I can’t think what they were thinking. Can’t even tell ya.”

From Interstate 97 to the beltway, almost a dozen other Marylanders have died in wrong way crashes in recent years.

Now the head of the National Transportation Safety Board tells WJZ they’re very concerned about these types of crashes.

“They create a lot of damage and destruction when they occur, and they occur at very high speeds,” said Deborah Hersman, NTSB chairman.

A recent NTSB study finds the majority of wrong way crashes happen on weekends between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and 60 percent involve an intoxicated driver.

“If you look at these crashes, head on crashes, 20 percent of them are fatal,” Hersman said. “And they are preventable.”

The NTSB recommends better highway signage and on ramp designs.

They urge automakers to improve GPS technology so warning tones would go off in vehicles if drivers go the wrong way.

The NTSB is also behind research into new technology called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety or “DADSS,” where cars would automatically sample breath for alcohol before turning on.

“That really is the future of preventing drunk driving,” Hersman said. “The state is concerned about all crashes on our highways.”

Maryland transportation officials say they’re evaluating signage and getting tougher on drunk drivers.  But change takes time and lots of money.

The NTSB report makes a number of recommendations, but is it possible to implement all of these?

“In an ideal world, yes, but in reality we have to look and see what it is we can actually do,” said Buel Young, Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

In the meantime, drivers remain at risk.

“The high incidence of those events being fatal is really a problem,” Hersman said.

“I just hope somebody learns a lesson from it,” Lara said. “Hopefully that’ll save a life or two.”

Lara says he passes by the scene of the accident that took his partner’s life every day.

“It’s tough. It’s tough,” he said. “You wonder if anything will get back to normal. There is no normal anymore.”

The new technologies are currently being test in prototype vehicles.

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