MILWAUKEE -- Drivers traveling the wrong way on the highway create a dangerous situation that can even prove fatal. What would you do if you saw headlights coming toward you on the road?
One driver was traveling at high speeds, headed northbound in the southbound lanes. As the driver traveled the wrong way on the freeway, exceeding speeds of 80 to 90 miles-per-hour, the fate of an innocent driver can be taken in seconds.
On New Year's Day 2011, a drunk driver made a U-turn and headed eastbound in the westbound lanes. He crashed head-on with another vehicle, killing a mother. The man responsible is Leopoldo Salas Gayton.
Gayton is just one of 12 wrong-way drivers caught on Milwaukee County highways last year alone. It's a sobering statistic that Sheriff David Clarke can't seem to understand. "There's no more dangerous situation on the roadway, and we are seeing an increase in this type of thing," Sheriff Clarke said.
Clarke says most of the wrong-way driving cases involve drunk drivers, but not all of them. What's even more disturbing, Clarke admits, is that there is no pattern, no reason, no way to predict when this sort of thing will happen. "There is no temple, no rule of thumb (for wrong-way driving patterns)," Clarke said.
If you came across a wrong-way driver, would you know what to do? Would you stop? In a situation like this, it's often a split-second decision.
Sheriff David Clarke advises drivers facing a wrong-way driver situation to try to get out of the way. Whether that means hitting the brakes, swerving the car or pulling over.
A driver's reaction is situational and will depend on the reaction of the other driver, the speed, and how much time there is to react. "It's going to be a natural reaction, you're not going to have time to think," Clarke said.
Clarke says if you can, try to get the oncoming driver's attention by flashing your lights or honking your horn. Also, staying in the right lane could help if the driver is using the fast lane.
Clarke advises that calling 911 is essential, that is, if there's enough time before an accident occurs. That way a trained officer or deputy can track down and stop the driver.
Clarke stresses that anyone facing a wrong-way driver should never, under any circumstances, turn around to try to stop the other driver. This will only put you and others in harms way. By following the driver, " now you've got two cars traveling the wrong way on the freeway," Clarke said.
Ultimately, if you do come across a wrong-way driver, the sheriff says it is up to you to make a judgement call.