Texas’ Efforts to Prevent Wrong Way Crashes Capture Attention of Federal Highway Officials

First, an NBC 5 investigation into the dangers posed by wrong way drivers caught the attention of state highway officials prompting changes on Texas roads. Now, what’s happening here has also caught the attention of the federal highway officials.

Mark Rosekind, the top administer of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told NBC 5 Investigates he wants other states to see the plans Texas has to combat wrong way driving here.

For 11 months, NBC 5 Investigates revealed The Texas Department of Transportation did not make safety changes some experts have recommended for at least a decade that are proven to reduce wrong way crashes.

Meanwhile, wrong way crashes continue to plague Texas roads.

NBC 5 Investigates obtained new crash data from TxDOT showing at least 61 people have died and another 696 have been injured between Jan. 1, 2015 and Nov. 30, 2015.

That means one person dies and 14 people are injured each week in Texas, on average. Numbers obtained by NBC 5 Investigates also show a staggering toll over the last five years -- 335 dead and more than 3,500 injured in wrong way crashes in Texas.

“So many of these lives are lost individually, geographically dispersed; So until you bring all these numbers together to realize how big they are, people don't pay attention,” said Rosekind.

Rosekind came to Texas for a traffic safety summit where he learned more about TxDOT's new plan to do more to prevent wrong way crashes.

TxDOT announced the plan on the heels of an NBC 5 investigation that revealed most state highways lack safety measures proven to reduce wrong way crashes. Since that investigation the state has promised 700 safety improvements at 160 test locations in Tarrant County.

"This is a significant program that's going to use a lot of different countermeasures," said TxDOT spokesman, Val Lopez, when the plan was first announced.

The plan includes lower Wrong Way and Do Not Enter signs to be more visible at night to intoxicated drivers. It also includes red pavement reflectors to warn drivers and new flashing signs. TxDOT’s work is set to begin this spring.

One study by the North Texas Tollway Authority showed lower signs can cut wrong way crashes by 60 percent.

“So the stuff that's going on, you really want to raise it up and say, ‘Here's stuff you can do and it makes a huge difference in saving lives.’ At the same time, why aren't we doing that everywhere in Texas and everywhere across the country,” said Rosekind.

After seeing what's happening in Texas, Rosekind said he wants to see if his agency can make more federal funds available to states to start similar projects. 

He also pledged to talk with the head of the Federal Highway Administration to see if they can do even more, though he said funding may be a problem.

“That's always a piece of it, and anyone who says no is not telling you the whole piece,” said Rosekind.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX 26th District) hosted the safety summit and said he would support more funds and that he believes NBC 5 Investigates’ reports have helped spark a national conversation on the issue.

“You and your station have done a lot to draw a sharp focus on this and it's one of the things that has, at least, achieved the desired goal of getting the interest of people at the state and federal level,” said Burgess.

In addition to the reports for NBC 5 in North Texas, NBC 5 Investigates produced a national story on the issue for NBC's Today Show.

“It really hasn't been on the national stage very much, so we've been losing lives and getting people hurt without paying attention to wrong way crashes being so significant to the whole nation,” said Rosekind.

Rosekind believes what's happening in Texas now has potential to shape the future across the country and that Texas could be on the leading edge.

There are already signs that TxDOT will install those safety measures beyond Tarrant County test locations.

The Dallas District is looking at locations to begin installing the red pavement markers to alert wrong way drivers.

Since most wrong way drivers are intoxicated the best way to prevent those crashes would be an end to drunken driving, but without that these new countermeasures appear to be the next best thing.

Wrong-way crash data disclaimer: NBC 5 Investigates requested crash data from TxDOT to identify all wrong-way crashes in the state since 2011 through Nov. 30, 2015. Per TxDOT data, a reportable motor vehicle traffic crash is defined as: “Any crash involving a motor vehicle in transport that occurs or originates on a traffic way, results in injury to or death of any person, or damage to the property of any one person to the apparent extent of $1,000.”

They provided data collected from Texas Peace Officer's Crash Reports (CR-3) that provided county, year, crash severity, crash time, longitude/latitude, fatalities and injured. NBC 5 Investigates used the information to create an interactive map to see where wrong-way crashes have occurred in North Texas and throughout the state.

Questions? Please feel free to contact Eva Parks, NBC 5 Investigates Producer: eva.parks@nbcuni.com.

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