Fatalities stemming from wrong-way driving on divided highways in Massachusetts rose substantially during the latter half of the last decade compared to the period between 2010 and 2014, according to AAA Northeast, and more than 4,500 people have been injured in such violent incidents since 2010 on all state roads.
AAA on Tuesday released data from its Foundation for Traffic Safety indicating there were 2,008 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways in the U.S. between 2015 and 2018, an average of 500 deaths a year and a 34% increase from the 375 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014. In Massachusetts, the number of deaths increased from 19 to 27 over the same period – an increase of 77.6% in the annual average.
Citing numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Crash Data Portal, AAA reported that 150 people have died and more than 4,500 were injured in wrong-way crashes since 2010 when accounting for crashes on all roads, not just divided highways. There have been over 8,200 wrong-way crashes here since 2010 with the most occurring, in order, in the cities of Worcester, Springfield, Boston, New Bedford, Lowell and Fall River.
The automobile organization said researchers concluded that six in ten wrong-way crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Risks of wrong-way crashes are also higher among older drivers and drivers without passengers — nearly 87% of wrong-way drivers were alone, researchers said.
AAA said it had joined with the National Transportation Safety Board in urging state transportation agencies to adopt countermeasures such as alcohol ignition interlocks, strengthened deterrence strategies like sobriety checkpoints, driver refresher courses for older adults and the installation of more-visible signs and signals.
An alcohol ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting until the driver provides a breath sample that registers below a pre-set low limit. After more than a decade of failed attempts, an amendment requiring interlock devices for first-time drunk driving offenders became law as part of the state budget.
In December, when Gov. Charlie Baker signed the amendment as part of the state budget, Sen. Bruce Tarr said its final passage "will put in place a powerful tool to prevent drunk driving by first-time offenders and prevent the loss of lives and serious injuries on the roadways of the Commonwealth."