70 Floridians died last year in wrong-way wrecks

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There were no serious injures in a fiery crash early Friday morning that occurred when a 26-year-old woman drove her SUV the wrong way near the Acosta Bridge and struck a box truck, but many such crashes cause serious injuries or deaths.

Last year, there were hundreds of crashes as a result of wrong-way drivers on Florida roads and 70 people were killed in such wrecks.

The Florida Highway Patrol says Sarah Vanswearingen drove head-on into the truck about 1 a.m. Friday. Neither she nor the driver of the truck she struck were seriously injured, but the Acosta Bridge was closed for hours after the crash. Troopers say alcohol was a factor.

Investigators say a Cynthia Griffin was critically hurt and another driver was seriously injured last Saturday morning in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 95, also near downtown Jacksonville.

Last month, four University of South Florida students were killed when troopers say an alcohol-impaired driver going the wrong way on a Tampa highway struck them head on. That driver also died in the fiery aftermath of the crash.

William Bishop, who teaches driving safety course with AAA, calls this a growing problem.

"All states are taking (it) very seriously, and are trying a lot of things and a lot of studies are in place because the frequency is getting so much faster," Bishop said. "But the main thing is, it's very deadly."

Bishop says drunk driving appears to be the main cause, but wrong-way driving is also a problem with the elderly and people who are distracted by their phones and GPS.

Our driving safety expert says there's also a problem with the roads, especially in downtown areas. He thinks some intersections need to be redesigned to make it easier for motorists to know the right way to go.

"This particular intersection we're at (Jefferson and Water streets where southbound traffic enters the Acosta Bridge), there's a 'Do Not Enter' sign here, here, here, (and) here. At this one intersection, you can go the wrong way four different places," Bishop said.

AAA does have some advice for motorists who encounter a wrong-way driver:

  • Get off the road on the shoulder as far as you can.
  • After you're off the shoulder, flash your lights on and off. You don't want to do that when you're heading toward the person because you might blind them, but after you're off the shoulder, flash your lights.  
  • Call 911, although in most cases it's over before the police can get there.