In the span of two weeks, the Howard Franklin Bridge has been closed because of a crash involving a wrong way driver. In both incidents, there are common factors involved: 1)both drivers were impaired and, 2)both drivers made a U-turn on the bridge and started going the wrong way causing the crashes.
There are signs on the Howard Franklin and I-275 that are able to warn drivers that there may be a driver heading the wrong way on the highway but that can’t possibly stop a crash.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ website advises motorists who see an alert to slow down, move to the right lane and proceed with “extreme caution.”
If you see a wrong-way driver approaching, immediately pull off the roadway.
You could also exit the interstate at your first opportunity, but that’s not what officials say you must do.
“The common denominator in these wrong-way crashes is an impaired driver. Every time,” said Larry Coggins, executive director of the West Central Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The problem is frustrating for officials and advocates who say the problem can’t be stopped with enforcement and road design changes.
“It’s just absolutely dumbfounding that here in 2018 with all the opportunities people have to get home safely, here is another driver who chose to do the wrong thing,” Coggins said.
This rash of crashes is reminiscent of a deadly spate of six crashes over seven months in 2014 that killed 11 people. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are the worst in Florida when it comes to impaired driving, Coggins said, pointing to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles data.
It shows Hillsborough had an average of 528 crashes where alcohol was a factor between 2014 and 2016. The more populous Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties had far fewer. Pinellas had 355, third behind Miami-Dade.
“Drinking and driving in the Tampa Bay area is a public health epidemic,” Coggins said.
If Pinellas and Hillsborough lead the entire state in these types of crashes, is it time to do something more drastic to put an end to the wrong-way, impaired crashes? Perhaps we should look at making any type of U-turn on our bay area bridges impossible. That would make it more difficult for first responders but it may just save lives.