Woman killed, wrong-way driver injured in US-131 crash

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A woman was killed when her vehicle was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver on US-131 in Grand Rapids early Friday morning.

The crash happened around 2:40 a.m. on southbound US-131 near Ann Street in Grand Rapids.

Michigan State Police said a Toyota 4Runner, driven by a 21-year-old Rockford man, was driving north in the southbound lanes when it struck a Buick Encore head-on.

The driver of the Encore, a 59-year-old Wyoming woman, was pronounced dead at the scene. The wrong-way driver was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, according to an MSP news release.

Their names were not released later Friday.

The crash remains under investigation, but state police said alcohol is believed to be a factor.

The southbound lanes of US-131 were closed for several hours as authorities investigated and worked to clear the scene. The highway has since reopened.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO STOP WRONG-WAY DRIVERS?

The rate of wrong-way crashes investigated on Grand Rapids-area highways has varied between 2010 and 2019, from a low of 26 in 2010, then peaking at 64 in 2016 and dropping to 33 in 2019, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

Nationwide, a study released by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety in March shows there were 3,885 deaths as a result of wrong way drivers between 2010 and 2018. If those killed, 41% were in the vehicles going the right way.

It’s a problem with no easy solutions.

But the Arizona Department of Transportation is trying. It initiated a pilot program in 2018, placing specialized thermal cameras at highway ramps in the Phoenix area. Video on the Arizona DOT website shows the moment the camera picks up the heat signature of a pickup truck entering a highway the wrong way. State troopers were alerted and stopped the vehicle. Flashing signs on the highway alerted other drivers to the incursion.

“Well over 100 vehicles have been detected since we started having this system on line. Again, we started in January of 2018,” Arizona DOT spokesman Doug Nick said. “It’s been very successful in that regard.”

A large number of those drivers were under the influence, he added.

There’s nothing quite as high-tech in Michigan, but MDOT has improved road sign size and placement, as well as taken other measures to alert wrong way drivers.

Many of those changes were for drivers who may get confused at a ramp, but confusion is only part of the problem.

“As of right now, it’s alleged that the at-fault driver (in the Friday crash) was under the influence,” Michigan State Police Lt. Michelle Robinson said.

That’s where police say driver responsibility — not getting behind the wheel drunk — would also help solve the problem.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve said in numerous traffic safety messages, it takes the life of someone else,” Robinson said.  

MSP investigators are still trying to piece together what happened before the US-131 crash. If you have any information, you’re asked to call the Grand Rapids Post at 616.866.4411.

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