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CHP examines recent wrong-way driving crashes

After two crashes on the same freeway in the same week, CHP discusses data

Posted: June 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.

This photo shows the off-ramp to Escondido Canyon Road from the northbound Highway 14, where two wrong-way drivers are suspected of causing two separate crashes last week. Photo by Mallory Fencil.

The last time national traffic researchers examined the incidence of wrong-way drivers, they found more than 1,000 victims had been killed in a single year because of it.

In response to questions about a recent spate of local traffic collisions blamed on wrong-way driving, state and federal officials pointed to a high number of fatalities, both in California and across the country.

Since February, officers with the CHP’s Newhall Station have investigated at least three local crashes sparked by suspected wrong-way drivers, including two incidents last week alone on Highway 14 at Escondido Canyon Road.

“We found fatal crashes (in 2011) related to wrong-way driving that make up 2.5 per cent of all motor vehicle deaths,” said Jose Ucles, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association based in Washington, DC.

The association tracks a variety of traffic safety issues, from child car seats to “behavioral research.”

The association’s latest national figures indicate 1,082 people died in 2011 as a result of motorists driving the wrong way. Driving the wrong way claimed more lives that motorists making improper turns, according to the research done examining “related factors” for drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Comparatively, it found 1,152 people died that same year due to falling asleep at the wheel, blacking out, being drowsy, fatigued or ill.

Ucles suggested a look at the signage posted near the highway ramps in question.

A visit Monday to the Escondido Canyon Road off-ramp from the northbound lanes of Highway 14 revealed unlit road signs on each side of the ramp warning motorists coming the opposite direction: “DO NOT ENTER” and “WRONG WAY.”

A CHP spokesman in Sacramento, however, pointed to the high incidence of impaired driving as being the single most significant factor in motorists driving the wrong way.

In two of the three local wrong way crashes, motorists were charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“It’s been my experience that 100 percent of the wrong way incidents were by drunk drivers,” said CHP Officer Ben Hatton.

“If you’re a drunk driver, your ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired,” he said.

“They can focus on a couple of things – making sure they drive straight and making sure they don’t speed – but they can only focus on those few things,” he said.

“They may be driving straight and not speeding but they’re not appreciating direction of traffic.”

Four hurt

On the night of Feb. 15, CHP officers looked for a motorist who drove into oncoming traffic on Interstate 5 in Castaic, causing two cars traveling the right way to collide and sending four people to the hospital, said CHP Officer T. Pennington at the time.

All four victims, two in each vehicle, suffered minor injuries and were treated at two different hospitals, he said.
The driver of the car driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the freeway fled the scene, he said.

Thirteen injured

On June 17, a Canyon Country man who allegedly drove the wrong way on Highway 14, causing a multi-car pileup that injured 13 — three critically — was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, CHP Officer Jennifer Cassidy said at the time.

Rick Allen Walker was arrested for DUI shortly after the crash. He was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine when the crash occurred about a mile south of Escondido Canyon Road.

The crash happened when a vehicle travelling the wrong way in the northbound lanes of Highway 14 slammed into oncoming traffic.


And most recently, a multi-vehicle crash on Highway 14 early Saturday resulted in the death of an elderly Quartz Hill man, the injury of three others and the arrest of a Burbank resident suspected of driving the wrong way and under the influence of alcohol, CHP Sgt. John Lutz said in a news release Sunday.

Manard Giles, 77, was killed in the crash that involved three vehicles and 12 people, injuring three of them critically, he said.

One of the seriously injured is suspected wrong-way driver Bradford Pate, 38, of Burbank, who is also suspected of being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.


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