Conference addresses issue of wrong-way drivers, distracted drivers

Traffic Safety Conference gets underway in SA


It is a topic that has been hashed and rehashed; wrong-way drivers and distracted drivers in San Antonio. Experts at this year's Traffic Safety Conference, being held in San Antonio this week, are hoping to find solutions to the all too-common problem. 

According to statistics, an average of 3,000 Texans die each year while on the road.  Close to 90,000 are seriously injured in car accidents each year.  

"These [numbers] are not just something we should accept as a society as a cost of mobility," said Robert Wunderlich, who is director at the Center for Transportation Safety at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.  "We think that every crash is preventable."

From engineers to law enforcement officers to the Texas Department of Transportation; the meeting features a brain trust of experts looking work together to solve the issues of transportation safety.

For Katie Womack, a researcher for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, it starts with the person behind the wheel.

"One of the things we found is that people tend to underestimate the amount of time they take their eyes off the road in order to read or send a text," said Womack.

Driving at 30 mph and looking down for only 5 seconds would mean a driver would travel a distracted 220 feet. At 60 mph, a driver would travel 440 feet without looking at the road.

Many drivers also take on a cocky disposition, believing other drivers are the problem and not them. According to Womack, statistics showed that 44 percent of drivers admitted to texting and driving, while they believed that 89 percent of other drivers were guilty of the same offense.

Most participants in the study also viewed cellphone use for talking while driving as being common and acceptable.  

Meanwhile, wrong-way drivers remained a hot-button issue for South Texas. According to Troy Walden, who heads up the Crash Analysis team at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, well-placed, lit signage, which has become common on many San Antonio freeway exit ramps, is proving helpful statewide.

Some San Antonians have even suggested spike strips for exit ramps to keep a driver from entering the freeway the wrong way.

"I don't believe [spike strips are viable]. The reason being because now you may have an individual who's intoxicated and now has a disabled vehicle," said Walden. "We've increased the potential for a crash to occur by flattening those tires."

The experts agreed it is going to take a change in driving culture to curb the distracted-driver and wrong-way-driving issues.

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