How new technology could reduce wrong-way crashes in Grand Rapids


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — New technology will soon be put in throughout Grand Rapids with the hopes it reduces the number of wrong-way crashes on US-131.

“They’re deadly and they’re chaotic,” said John Richard, a communications specialist with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

On Monday, MDOT announced plans to add wrong-way driver detection systems, which sets off a series of lights, records, then notifies first responders whenever someone begins to drive the wrong-way, at off ramps on US-131 between Ann Street and M-11, also known as 28th Street. Similar technology on the highway at Cherry and Hall Streets already exists.

“If we can stop them from getting on right at the point of conflict, then that’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Richard.

It’s unknown at this time which of the 16 ramps on the nearly seven mile stretch of US-131 will get the systems according to Richard but he notes MDOT intends to install new, flashing red lights on the ‘wrong-way’ signs at all of them.

A federal grant covers most of the project’s cost. The department wants to finish construction sometime next spring.

“This will allow for motorists to be more aware,” said Michigan State Police Lt. Michelle Robinson. “If they are confused and going the wrong direction, they should be able to correct their actions very quickly once they see [the signs].”

Robinson believes the technology could lower the number of fatalities associated with these types of collisions.

Data from MSP found statewide, the number of wrong-way traffic crashes hit a five-year high in 2021 with 421 reported.

During that same time period, 34 people died, including Willow Yon, a 21-year-old student at Kendall College who passed away after a drunk driver hit her on the highway between 28th and Burton Streets.

“We realize that this system will not alleviate all wrong-way accidents in this area, but believe it will save many lives,” said Denise Yon, Willow’s mom, in a statement to FOX17. “People still need to be held accountable for their actions while driving.”

Robinson says most wrong-way crashes involve some type of alcohol or drug use. She encourages those on the road to do their part.

“Always be aware of your surroundings and give yourself a good reactionary gap between you and the vehicle in front of you,” said Robinson. “This is a tremendous opportunity to increase the safety awareness out on our roadways and anytime that we can do that as a benefit to not only the policing agencies, but also the motorists.”


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