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Why the Wrong Way Crashes on US 50?

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It was shortly after midnight on September 2nd. Donald Tyner was headed east on US 50 on his motorcycle with Janell McDougald hanging on behind him. They were just east of the Severn River Bridge when a Ford SUV driven west in the eastbound lanes by Terrance Sellman, of Pasadena, crashed head-on into them, killing them both.

They were the fifth and sixth people to die in head-on crashes caused by drivers going the wrong way on US 50 and I-97 in Anne Arundel County in the last 18 months. And now state highway officials are trying to figure out why people get on those limited access roads going the wrong way and how to prevent it.

State Police apparently have finished their investigation into this crash, but have not released their report.

Kim Trang, the deputy engineer for the State Highway Administration’s district that includes Annapolis, said at a recent meeting that 67 percent of these kinds of crashes in Anne Arundel County are “alcohol-involved.”

“Now, nationwide, it tends to be about 60 percent of them are alcohol-involved,” she said. “We’ve got 67 percent.”

She says five of the six wrong way crashes the SHA analyzed occurred in the middle of the night—between 12:30 and 4:30 in the morning--and four of those six involved drivers between the ages of 19 and 25.

“Now nationwide there’s two age brackets that are really represented, this younger age bracket and then the elderly,” she said.

“Right here on I-97 and Route 50 it’s this younger demographic. The thing that really stood out to us was that four of the six at-fault drivers were female.  Nationwide and even in the rest of Maryland that’s not the case.  They’re usually younger males that are involved in these crashes.”

While alcohol played a role in two-thirds of these accidents, Carren Johnson, the district engineer, said each accident is different.

“Various crashes that occurred, the specifics of each one is very much different, as far as how far they travelled, where they lived, where they’re traveling from, where they were potentially traveling to,” she said. 

But alcohol isn’t the only problem. There are some confusing interchanges as well.

Busch’s Frontage Road, which comes off eastbound US 50 just a few miles before you reach the Bay Bridge is one of them. It’s a two lane road that comes straight off the highway to serve a big WAWA and a number of other businesses, a relic of the days before US 50 was a limited access highway.

In spite of the businesses and the new signs that the highway administration has placed there to keep drivers from heading onto Route 50 going the wrong way, it remains a dark and confusing interchange.

Meredith Childers, from Severna Park, recalled one frightening night when she almost got on the highway the wrong way.

The road “comes straight out,” she said. “It’s not angled.”

She says she asked a friend if she was going the right way and the friend said no.

“I could have been that woman, going the wrong way,” she said. “All those roads over there are just straight on, they’re not intuitive, they’re very difficult to figure out.”

Now, SHA officials say, they’re doing all they can to improve signage and lighting. And State Police say they’ve stepped up enforcement. They say DUI arrests are up 36 percent this year over last.