Iowa State Patrol warns drivers to be aware of potential of wrong-way drivers

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - On any interstate or highway, what a driver expects to see is taillights in front of them and headlights on the other side of the road, probably on the other side of a barrier.

But what they don’t expect, especially on a divided highway, to see is a car coming right toward them.

It’s what Cedar Rapids resident Johnny McCrane saw a few months ago near the Iowa-Illinois border on a cold, icy night.

“Pretty scary,” he said. “It was on a four-lane interstate, and he was just coming right at me, around the corner.”

Not only was it scary for McCrane, but also disorienting.

“I thought I was going the wrong way. So I double-checked all the street signs, then I found out it was him, and just flashed him and got over,” he said.

While flashing your headlights at the other driver might help, Trooper Bob Conrad of the Iowa State Patrol said another instinct — honking your horn at them — is pretty useless.

“You’re making that closing distance, they don’t hear it,” he said.

Conrad said that in his estimate, wrong-way crashes seem to be becoming more and more common in eastern Iowa.

Over the last couple years, the area has seen several of them, some fatal, including one Sunday night in Cedar Rapids, in which the drivers of both cars were killed.

“We get this false sense of security, going on the interstate or these four-lane roads, thinking, all we’ve got to do is pay attention, stay in our lane, go forward, nothing bad can happen to us,” Conrad said. “That’s just not true.”

Drivers who see a car going the wrong way toward them should move to the right-hand lane and shoulder as quickly as possible while hitting the brakes, according to Conrad. He said that just by slowing down, drivers are reducing the chance someone is hurt, even if they are hit.

“When you have two vehicles coming at such a high rate of speed, when they hit, the potential for that fatality crash is huge,” he said.

Conrad said to never assume the wrong-way driver will pass you.

“If I see someone coming at me with headlights in my lane, I’m going to get over to the side of the shoulder as far as I can and stop my vehicle,” he said.

Most importantly, he said drivers need to always pay attention, especially at night.

“If you’re distracted, you’re not seeing danger coming at you at 70 miles per hour,” Conrad said.

It’s what McCrane, someone with firsthand experience with wrong-way drivers, agreed with.

“No texting and driving,” he said. “Be aware.”

If you see a wrong-way driver, Conrad said to call 911 as soon as you can.