Wrong-way crash deaths have nearly tripled on Georgia highways

Collisions caused by wrong-way drivers lead to hundreds of injuries in Georgia each year.

Channel 2 Action News discovered a disturbing trend – wrong-way crashes nearly doubled over the last decade.

Ashleigh Mouring, 31, recently finished rehabilitation and is still using a cane after surviving a wrong-way crash in July 2023.

Her friend Denise Watkins was driving when a car came out of nowhere straight at them.

“He had no headlights on. We didn’t see him till you got literally right in front of us. The only thing that I had time to think of is, ‘I’m going to die. I’m about to die,’” Mouring said.

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The impact crushed her leg and shattered her hip. She spent more than a month in the hospital. It traumatized her daughter Marley who still can’t talk about it.

“It was awful. She hated it, I hated it,” Mouring said.

Mouring told Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi that she is still in pain, but she’s alive unlike her friend Denise, who along with the wrong-way driver, Cecil Williams, died when their cars collided on Interstate 20 between the Hamilton E. Holmes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive exits.

Mouring believes Watkins saved her life with a last-second decision.

“She looked at me and she immediately jerked the car to the right and took most of the impact,” Mouring said.

Data obtained by Channel 2 Action News from the Georgia Department of Transportation shows wrong-way crashes rose from 475 in 2013 to 852 in 2022.

“It’s shocking to watch,” Channel 2′s Linda Stouffer said during a newscast in May 2020.

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She was describing a viewer’s video of a red car going the wrong way on the downtown connector that collided with a gray Ford F-150 truck.

Deaths from wrong-way crashes jumped from 16 in 2013, to 44 in 2022.

GDOT attributed the increase mainly to bad driver behavior.

“We saw an increase from COVID and beyond. Across the board, what we see is impairment, distraction. Unfortunately, there is a common thread between the age of the driver and confusion,” GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said.

But the biggest contributing factor was driving under the influence, which made up more than 13% of the listed causes.

Impaired driving can include alcohol, street and prescription drugs, and even lack of sleep.

“These occur more than, more often than not late, in the overnight hours, in the morning,” Dale said.

So, what can be done about reducing the number of wrong-way drivers? GDOT said it is constantly looking at that.

“Do we need signage? Can technology be helpful? Do we need to improve infrastructure here?” Dale said.

Fortunately, GDOT said Georgia does not have any hot zones for repeated wrong-way crashes and they are not that common.

“375,000 crashes that happen in Georgia yearly, this represents less than 0.1%,” Dale said.

But wrong-way crashes are often deadly.

Atlanta police are investigating if the driver that caused the wreck that killed Watkins and hurt Mouring was under the influence.

Mouring sued the driver’s insurance and after legal fees got around $16,000. She now worries her injuries could lead to lifelong issues.

“Arthritis is definitely going to be a problem,” Mouring said.

It’s all because of a wrong-way crash.

“You know, people drive so crazy here and they, you know, they do a lot of things on the highway that endangers everybody around them,” Mouring said.

So, what can you do to avoid wrong-way crashes?

GDOT said do not drive distracted and always pay attention to what other drivers are doing around you.

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