Editor's note: This story first appeared on KVUE.com on April 30, 2015.
AUSTIN -- The KVUE Defenders discovered Texas leads the nation in wrong way crashes, but some transportation experts don't believe the state is doing enough to reduce crashes.
In a four-year span, the Texas Department of Transportation identified more than 3,300 wrong-way crashes in Texas, more than two each day. In all, 271 people were killed.
Brianne Pratt is one of them. Her mother, Nancy, says a drunk driver crossed the center lane on Highway 1670 in Belton and hit her 20-year-old daughter head-on in December 2013.
"By the time I think Brianne realized he wasn't going to get back in his lane, it was too late," said Pratt.
In Central Texas, the most wrong-way crashes happen in downtown Austin. TxDOT records show more than two dozen collisions happened mostly on one-way streets.
Other wrong-way danger zones include Highway 71 running through South Austin, Highway 183 in North Austin and Interstate 35. TxDOT said more than half of crashes on those roadways were alcohol-related.
In 2013, a wrong-way truck driver hit Chris Vasquez on Highway 290 East.
"Every night, I still see this picture. I'm holding on to my steering wheel and I'm flipping and flipping," said Vasquez.
In 2003, a Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study recommended major changes it claims could reduce wrong-way crashes. It recommended the state "consider the use of lowered DO NOT ENTER and WRONG WAY signs." The state's standard mounting height is seven feet. Lowering it could allow low-beam headlights to better illuminate the sign. It also recommended improving ways to alert the public once a wrong-way driver is spotted.
Dale Picha, a traffic operations manager, said TxDOT has delayed lowering most of its signs.
"The federal highway administration allows a lower height, but Texas, or TxDOT, still has to research to make sure there are no unintended consequences of a lower-mounted sign of going through someone's windshield," said Picha.
Picha also said TTI completed a 2014 study which showed lowered signs may not be effective.
"At this time, researchers do not recommend that TxDOT use a 2-ft sign mounting height for WRONG WAY and DO NOT ENTER signs. TxDOT should continue to monitor NTTA's lowered sign evaluation and revisit the possible use of this countermeasure based on future findings," the report states.
In an email to the KVUE Defenders, TxDOT wrote, "Lowering the Wrong Way and Do Not Enter signs for all exit ramps statewide would be costly. So before we do this, we are testing whether lowering the signs is a viable solution that would not come with an unintended consequence, such as entering the car through the windshield."
Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council and the former chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, said TxDOT needs to do more.
"The problem is, when you don't have the will to implement those interventions, you'll continue to see the fatalities rack up year after year and that's the unfortunate position that Texas is in right now," said Hersman.
Picha said TxDOT does have the will. He helped start a San Antonio pilot program which decreased wrong way crashes by 30 percent. It did it by adding dozens of flashing wrong-way signs across the city. Once a wrong-way driver is reported by the public, it can also notify the drivers using electronic message boards within minutes.
Picha estimates the changes have saved 25 lives.
Pratt hopes the state can expand the pilot program sooner than later to save other drivers like her daughter. "Maybe it won't prevent all of them, but what if it prevents one, two, three. I mean, that's a life," said Pratt.
GO HERE to view the map of wrong-way crashes in Texas.
- RED: Fatality crashes
- YELLOW: Injury crashes
- GREEN: Crashes, but no injuries