Target 2: The wrong way driver problem in Northeast Wisconsin

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - It's a driver's worst nightmare. Imagine traveling at highway speeds when you meet another driver going the wrong way.

Wrong way graphic by MGN

It's not unusual in Northeast Wisconsin. This area averages more than one wrong way driver per week.

Action 2 News reported in January about how the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Brown County were implementing an alert system that gives a warning about wrong way drivers.

We've been tracking the data. While the statistics are sobering, officials believe the warning system is making a difference.

"I think we're seeing a difference. It seems like in Brown County, we're seeing less wrong way drivers on our roadways," says Capt. Dan Sandberg, Brown County Sheriff's Office.

Whenever a 911 call about a wrong way driver comes in, dispatchers connect to the DOT. The DOT can immediately post an alert on existing highway message boards in the area.

Since the system went into effect, there have been 52 wrong way drivers reported in a small section of Northeast Wisconsin.

There were 49 wrong way drivers in Brown, Outagamie, and Winnebago Counties.

Three more were reported in Sheboygan, Oconto, and Manitowoc Counties.

A vast majority happened on I-43 or I-41 during overnight hours.

Capt. Sandberg says most of these drivers are drunk and they do not remember where they got on the road.

Officials are left to study the data to find out why this is happening.

One thing that is helping: roundabouts.

"I think the roundabouts have reduced it. It seems most of our wrong way drivers we're seeing are coming from those off ramps and on ramps that don't have a roundabout on them," Sandberg says. "If you're just not paying attention or if you're intoxicated, it's kind of hard to go the wrong way without it actually being intentional."

Sandberg is trying to figure out ways to prevent wrong way drivers in other areas, including Highway 57. That's where a wrong way driver hit a vehicle in Dyckesville. The wrong way driver and two people in the other vehicle were killed.

There are no message boards in that area. Sandberg says the boards probably would not have helped in that situation. However, he'd like to see the alert system expand to more roads.

It comes down to funding.

"We asked for one to be put on 172, but that's a matter of asking, and getting that money allocated is tough with today's budgets," says Capt. Sandberg.

Additional statistics:

-37 wrong way drivers were reported between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
-There were 20 reported wrong way drivers in Brown County (January 19th to November 5th).
-There were 23 reported wrong way drivers in Winnebago County (January 19th to November 5th).
-There were five reported wrong way drivers in Outagamie County (January 19th to November 5th).

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