If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that the Dallas North Tollway has been the site of numerous deadly wrong-way wrecks in the last few months. As I reported yesterday, earlier this month the North Texas Toll Authority announced that they were making some changes to help reduce those dangers. But are those changes enough?
The changes include the addition of raised reflective pavement markers at each of the tollway’s 47 exit ramps. The raised markers will reflect red when drivers approach from the wrong direction. The tollway is also installing 25 "wrong way" and "do not enter" signs along the tollway.
While I applaud the action, these changes don’t go far enough. The biggest cause of wrong-way wrecks appears to be intoxicated drivers, with confused, elderly drivers a distant second. While the NTTA’s modifications might help an elderly driver, they do nothing to help with wrecks caused by intoxicated drivers.
It’s my opinion that once the driver has become impaired, it’s too late to rely on warnings to try and stop the driver from driving the wrong way. You can have signs two or three feet off the ground, reflective or flashing lights, blinking signs, or whatever you want to try. Once the driver is impaired, NTTA is not going to be able to put up a warning sign of any type that’s going to be able to get the driver’s attention.
Assuming that’s true, what can be done to prevent these wrecks? We’ll look at that over the next couple of days.
Also, one criticism or question that I have heard people ask in the wake of the current rash of wrong-way drivers on the tollway is "what responsibility does NTTA have since the wrecks are being caused by these drunk drivers?" And my response is that "clearly, there is something wrong here." While drunk driving and wrong-way drivers are a problem all over the country, I’m not aware of any roadway in the country with as many deadly wrong-way wrecks as the Dallas North Tollway. Texas is a big state, and from the little reading I’ve done, there are as many, or almost as many, deadly wrong-way wrecks on the Dallas North Tollway in the last year than the rest of the state combined. Something is clearly wrong. Whether it’s poor on-ramps or some other reason, I’m not yet sure. But something is clearly wrong, and the NTTA has a responsibility to try and figure out what it is and to try and resolve it.