Wrong-way driver hits semi on I-15

ST. GEORGE — Two drivers escaped serious injury when a wrong-way driver crashed into a semitractor-trailer’s rear axle on Interstate 15 in Iron County Sunday morning.

Wrong-way signage at a freeway off-ramp | Photo courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board/New York Department of Transportation, St. George News

At 7:24 a.m., emergency personnel were dispatched to a crash on I-15 near mile marker 95 a few miles south of Fremont Road involving a white passenger car and a semitractor-trailer, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Brady Zaugg said.

“Dispatch started receiving calls at about 7:10 from numerous motorists reporting a reckless driver and excessive speed,” he said.

A heavy response was set in motion initially, including the launch of medical helicopters due to the nature of the crash, but the incident was downgraded when they found both drivers had only sustained minor injuries.

Troopers were already en route to the area to stop the reported wrong-way driver when the crash took place.

The man driving the passenger car was heading south along one of the northbound lanes when he swerved to avoid hitting the semi head-on. Instead, the car spun around and struck the rear axle of one of the trailers.

“The fact the two vehicles didn’t hit dead-on is likely the only reason someone wasn’t seriously injured or worse,” Zaugg said.

The collision caused heavy damage to the passenger car and damaged the axle of the semi so severely that it disabled the trailer — but left the semitractor undamaged.

Troopers investigating the collision found beer cans inside of the passenger car and impairment is being investigated as a possible cause of the crash.

Due to the severity of the crash and the fact that it involved a wrong-way driver, a thorough investigation is being conducted and citations are forthcoming.

“But we won’t know the outcome until the investigation is concluded,” Zaugg said.

“Highway Special Investigation Report”

In 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board looked at one of the most serious types of accidents that occur on our highways — wrong-way crashes, which are reported infrequently and account for only about 3% of all accidents reported on high-speed divided highways.

Wisconsin crash was analyzed as part of a study by the National Transportation Safety Board | Photo courtesy of the NTSB, St. George News

Even so, they are much more likely to result in fatal and serious injuries than any other type of highway collision since a majority of them are head-on events.

Studies by a number of states included in the report revealed that wrong-way crashes have a mortality rate as much as 27 times higher than any other crash type.

The issue of wrong-way driving collisions was first addressed in 1968, when the NTSB investigated a multiple-fatality wrong-way collision near Baker, California where a Greyhound bus filled with passengers collided he a Chevrolet Impala going 70 mph while heading the wrong way on I-15.

The bus, traveling at about 65 mph, entered the number one lane to overtake a slower-moving truck and veered sharply to the left and slammed on his brakes. The Impala steered sharply to the right, but collided with the bus and caused it to roll over and burst into flames. During an autopsy of the Impala driver, investigators found he had a blood alcohol content of .015, three times the legal limit in Utah.

The report found alcohol is a leading factor in wrong-way crashes and revealed that as many as 75% of them involve an impaired driver.

The analysis also showed that nearly 80% of wrong-way collisions occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and more than half took place on the weekend.

The report also showed that the wrong-way driver was traveling in the number one lane, or the lane closest to the median, in seven of the nine crashes analyzed. In fact, the tendency of wrong-way collisions to take place in the number one lane is so common that many jurisdictions train their police not to travel in that lane late at night.

When the origin can be determined, the primary route wrong-way drivers usually take is entering the highway on an exit ramp.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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