An exclusive NBC 5 investigation reveals just how often wrong-way drivers kill and injure people on Texas highways. NBC 5 Investigates used Texas Department of Transportation records to pinpoint areas where wrong-way crashes happen more often. Those high frequency crash zones raise questions about whether more can be done to prevent them.
TxDOT data shows the number of wrong-way crashes in Texas jumped by 13 percent last year. In the last four years, 269 people have died in wrong-way crashes and another 2,800 more were injured on Texas roads. In North Texas alone there have been 50 deaths and more than 700 injuries attributed to wrong-way crashes since 2011.
On Dec. 23, 2014 at 10:30 p.m. in Fort Worth, a car was driving down the wrong side of Interstate 30. More than 30 calls to 911 were made before the wrong-way driver slammed into a car driven by 18-year-old Sabrina Fernandez, killing her.
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“I think my husband was the one who caught me before I actually hit the floor because my knees like, I lost all feeling, I went into a million pieces,” said Donna Davila, Fernandez’s mother.
At the hospital, Fernandez’s parents also learn the doctor’s tried but could not save Fernandez’s unborn baby.
“That was the only time we got to carry our granddaughter. She looked like there was nothing wrong with her, but she had no life,” said Tommy Davila, Fernandez’s father.
Their deaths, just six weeks ago, mark one of the latest chapters in a massive problem on Texas roads.
“When you first arrive on the scene there’s nothing but debris everywhere,” said Don Peritz, NBC 5 law enforcement expert who responded to wrong-way crashes as a commander with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.
“There’s no way to escape injury or possible death in these crashes when two cars collide at such high rates of speed,” said Peritz.
In most cases the wrong-way driver has been drinking, like a 2011 crash where a truck driver was cruising along I-30 in Dallas when he’s suddenly hit head-on by a drunken driver going the wrong direction. But some wrong-way drivers are simply distracted or confused.
The data show it appears to happen more often on some sections of freeway. Using TxDOT data, NBC 5 Investigates mapped the location of every wrong-way crash in the state.
One hotspot is a stretch of Central Expressway from Downtown Dallas north to Forest Lane where 11 wrong-way crashes occurred in just four years with two of them being fatal. In one case, police followed the vehicle for miles and unsuccessfully tried to get the driver’s attention before a collision took place.
Another danger zone is the section of Texas 360 in Arlington between U.S. Highway 287 and I-30 where seven wrong-way crashes with reported injuries have occurred.
In Fort Worth, on I-30 near Beach Street, there have been three wrong-way crashes since 2011 that have killed five people. One crash in 2011 ended in a fireball after a wrong-way driver slammed into a tanker truck.
Another is the crash that killed Sabrina Fernandez.
Fernandez’s father believes there needs to be more urgency about ways to prevent the high number of wrong-way crashes.
Some of the nation’s top highway safety experts believe more aggressive safety measures would help.
Deborah Hersman led The National Transportation Safety Board during a 2012 study of wrong-way crashes.
“We’ve got to do a better job of saving lives and preventing injuries and that means investing money on the front end, whether it’s in technology or signs or redesign,” said Hersman.
NTSB researchers and state experts across the country have suggested changes to freeway exits ramps that include different signs or warning lights to better alert drivers or possibly even catch the attention of drunken drivers before they get on a freeway headed the wrong direction.
But NBC 5 Investigates has found those changes have not been made on many North Texas highways.
Fernandez’s mother questions, “Why hasn’t it hit here? If it’s preventing some fatalities, why can’t they put them here?”
In Part 2 of our NBC5 series we will look at some of those safety measures and ask why they have not been implemented on North Texas Roads.
Wrong-way crash data disclaimer: NBC 5 Investigates requested crash data from TxDOT to identify all wrong-way crashes in the state since 2011. 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.
*This data was last updated by TxDOT Jan. 13, 2015.
Questions? Please feel free to contact Eva Parks, NBC 5 Investigates Producer: firstname.lastname@example.org.