The Investigators: State Takes Action After Report on Wrong-Way Drivers

Most of the wrong-way crashes in Massachusetts happened along Route 128, I-93, I-195, I-90 and I-91

Massachusetts is taking action after the NBC Boston Investigators exposed the high numbers of wrong way drivers in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, the day after our exclusive investigation, the state took the first step that could lead to big changes on state highways.

Our report focused on the 13 people who died in Massachusetts in 2016 in wrong way driver crashes. We also showed how Rhode Island has stopped the problem all together. One day after our report, MassDot went to Rhode Island.

The NBC Boston Investigators started asking questions about wrong way drivers in October after five people died in a wrong way crash marking 12 deaths in the state. We profiled then Rhode Island’s efforts where led signs light up alerting wrong way drivers. Troopers immediately hit the road and huge highway signs alert other drivers. Since the new alert system went into place 20 months ago, 68 times wrong way drivers self-corrected. Bob Rocchio, Managing Engineer of Rhode Island DOT said, “We’ve had zero crashes, zero injuries, zero fatalities”.

With such a successful program, we took the issue then to Massdot.

MassDot Highway Administrator Tom Tinlin told the NBC Boston Investigators in October, “By the time the warning system goes off to the response time there could be a lag there as well.”

When asked if not following Rhode Island’s example was an expense issue Tinlin said, “No, you don’t put a price on public safety. If there was some technology available we thought would make it a safer roadway to benefit the public we wouldn’t let the price get in the way.”

Since that interview 2 months ago, we tracked at least three more wrong way drivers. Also, another death, 22-year-old James Keating of Bridgewater State University.

Throughout our investigation we learn the state doesn’t track wrong way driving incidents. So we did. With so many deaths, 13 in one year, we went through thousands of police and MassDot records.

The numbers are astonishing:

  • 407 wrong way drivers in Massachusetts
  • 36 percent were crashes
  • 22 killed
  • 109 injured

The numbers could be higher. Crash data only goes through 2014.

One day after our report, the NBC Boston Investigators confirm Massdot went to Rhode Island tweeting “Thank you... for hosting MassDot to look at your latest wrong way driving alert technology.”

NBC Boston Investigators asked to speak with Massdot highway administrator Tom Tinlin. His office declined but did issue a statement saying they “look at best practices” and scheduled the Rhode Island visit in December, which is two months after we questioned him about Rhode Islands success. We are now taking the issue to legislators.

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