A wrong way accident involving 5 vehicles caused eastbound I-4 in Polk county to close for several hours on Saturday, November 8, killing one person and leaving another in critical condition.
Since February 2014, there have been several wrong way accidents, seven of which were fatal, totaling 12 deaths to date. This is a huge increase compared to previous years, with 16 wrong way incidents reported in 2014 on limited access highways, while only 14 incidents were reported in 2012 and 2013 combined, according to the National Institute of Highway Safety and the Florida Highway Patrol.
Emergency workers, traffic experts and residents of the Tampa Bay Area are all baffled.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said former EMT Rafael Gonzalez. “I have driven ambulances in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa, and I have to say that Tampa roads scare me the most.”
“I feel unsafe on our roads. I’ve got a dash cam because I do not trust any of the Florida drivers here.” said senior commuter student and nursing major Jessica Shone.
The fatal accidents have been occurring at similar times, all around 4 a.m., with four of the seven drivers turning around to drive the wrong way after getting onto the correct on-ramp, according to police reports.
“I think the problem is that, especially at night, the lights from all of the construction look like headlights,” said Matthew Gould, a legal writer with Wilkes & McHugh, PA.
Construction on Interstate 275 in Tampa began in 2012, with lane closures and road widening near the south end of the road. Since construction began, it has extended to the north end of the interstate, and currently stretches from the Bearss exit through the interchange and stopping just before the bridge to St. Petersburg.
Many of the accidents have been on Interstate 275, and the majority of the drivers involved in those accidents have been under the influence of alcohol, according to Tampa police reports. For example, a woman driving under the influence was stopped on November 3 around 2 a.m. on 275 near Himes Ave. Less than 24 hours prior, another man was arrested for driving under the influence in the wrong direction on 275 as well. Both were caught without causing an accident.
“I think a case can be made that the construction on Interstate 275 is causing danger zones,” Gould said. “I am sure it is even more confusing if you are under the influence when you see those lights. I drive that road every day to and from work and I am sober, but I still sometimes feel turned around.”
Many of the drivers in the wrong way accidents are not originally from the Bay Area. The overwhelming amount of construction coupled with confusing directions can lead to disaster, even for a sober person.
“When I moved here, I relied on my GPS to get me everywhere, and more than once my GPS led me up a wrong way street. If the streets are not clearly marked, its probably easy to get on the wrong way,” Gonzalez said.
“They just need to clear up construction as quickly as possible, because I know the Dale Mabry and Westshore exits especially are so messy, I think it’s confusing.” said Shone.
While accidents continue to be reported on the roadways, drivers need to take precautions when entering the road and also need to be on alert for wrong way drivers. The state has begun installing signs to signal to drivers when a wrong-way driver has entered the roadway so that they can exit the roadway safely.
“Something needs to be done, but the first thing you can do is drive without distractions and never drive under the influence,” Gould said. “We need to stay aware so that we can stay alive.”
Krista Byrd can be reached at