What to do if you see a wrong-way driver on the interstate

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) — An accident along Interstate 80 in Johnson County on Sunday turned fatal after an Iowa City man struck another vehicle head-on while traveling on the wrong side of the interstate. 

A 64-year-old Texas man, Robert Sawyer was a passenger in a Honda, headed westbound on along Interstate near mile marker 234 between Tiffin and Oxford. 32-year-old Stephen Lucore, traveling in a Hyundai, was in the eastbound lane on the wrong side of the interstate when he hit the Honda head-on.

Signage reading “Do Not Enter” is posted on the back of signs located on off-ramps across the state to try and prevent wrong-way drivers.

No matter the interstate or highway, the signs look the same to help lost or confused drivers said Iowa DOT Transportation Planner, Cathy Cutler, “To catch people before they get out to the multi-lane highway or the interstate, in this case, so that’s why we put them on the ramp but they’re also on the interstate system themselves.”

Pieces of Sunday’s fatal Johnson County accident were still being picked up by Iowa DOT staff earlier today.

So what can you do when signs fail and you find yourself staring down headlights of an oncoming vehicle traveling the wrong way?

Trooper Bob Conrad with Iowa State Patrol knows all too well these accidents often turn deadly.

“We know the outcome of these crashes and many times they are a loss of life, unfortunately, like it was with this one. So let us know as soon as you can, 911, get off the roadway, let other people see what’s coming at them,” said Trooper Conrad, “Staying in the lane, even if they’re in a different lane and they’ve passed, you’ve got to remember if they’re going the wrong direction, they’re either confused, impaired… somethings wrong with that person.”

If a wrong-way vehicle is headed toward you, slow down as quickly as possible and pull safely to the right, a tip Cutler echoed. She said drivers, especially those impaired tend to keep their eyes low and to the right.

It’s also important to alert other drivers on the road.

“Get your hazards on immediately let the people behind you know that there is someone in your lane. Get off to the side of the road, clear that as quick as you can. Don’t stay in your lane, just get off the roadway as soon as you can,” said Trooper Conrad.

He also urges to avoid distractions, keeping your eyes a half mile down the road, and getting any passengers to assist with looking out for hazards.

Along Highway 30 in Ames, there have been a number of wrong-way crashes and the Iowa DOT is trying something new said Cutler, “We’re doing some experimental testing of sensor systems that actually pick up the driver going the wrong way on the ramp and immediately send it to law enforcement, in this case, the Ames P.D..”

According to the Iowa DOT crashes labeled “wrong way” from a 2018 report that looked at data from 2008 to 2017 accounted for 718 crashes, 25 of which were fatal.

That study found that younger and older drivers were more at risk of being a wrong way driver, and that having a passenger actually reduced these types of accidents.

More information from that study can be found here. 

Crash Year

Total Wrong Way or Wrong Side Crashes

2019 (incomplete)

152

2018

374

2017

356

2016

384

2015

340

2014

362

Ashley Neighbor

Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids
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