GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A recent wrong-way crash on US-131 in Grand Rapids is shining a light on increasing incidents of drivers going in the wrong direction.
Over the last month, the Grand Rapids Fire Department has responded to at least 35 highway crashes. During his career, GRFD public information officer Capt. Bill Smith said that some of the worst usually involve a driver that was headed in the wrong direction.
“It’s devastating. Not only to the people involved in that incident, but it’s devastating to their families and first responders, we do take that home,” Smith said. “The cars are obliterated. For someone to walk away from an incident like that, I would put that in the miracle category.”
According to data from Michigan State Police’s Sixth District Headquarters, since January 2022, eight wrong-way crashes have been reported in the Kent County area. Four of those crashes happened on U.S. 131 near Grand Rapids, the most recent one on March 17 left three people seriously injured. Last March, a wrong-way crash on 131 near 28th Street in Wyoming was fatal.
In response to the issue, MDOT has implemented a number of safety measures statewide, including adding wrong-way signage, adjusting the height of existing signs, and adding reflective delineators.
MDOT has installed wrong-way detection systems on ramps that flash LED lights to warn drivers they’re going the wrong way. The system also alerts MDOT officials, who will immediately call the police.
These sensors have been added to various ramps on US-131 through Grand Rapids including Wealthy, Hall and Cherry streets.
Some of the sensors were temporarily deactivated while they were moved from mainline US-131 to the ramps so MDOT could detect where a wrong-way driver entered. They’ve since been reactivated.
Of the eight wrong-way crashes in the area since January 2022, alcohol may have been a factor in five of them, and one also involved drugs. To prevent more of these incidents, first responders say the advice is simple.
“Don’t drink and drive, don’t do any drugs and drive, always pay attention to what you’re doing, just don’t get distracted,” Smith said.
The data for the number of times wrong-way sensors have been activated in the Grand Rapids area is not completely accurate, an MDOT spokesperson said, because there have been a number of false activations caused by severe weather and maintenance vehicles that have turned around on a ramp.
According to Michigan State Police’s most recent Traffic Crash Data Year Report, there were 421 wrong-way crashes in 2021, which resulted in seven fatalities. This is an increase compared to 2020, when 371 wrong-way crashes were reported.