INVESTIGATORS: 5 years, 92 Minnesotans killed in wrong-way crashes

23-year-old Elias Youngblom was supposed to graduate from college this spring and start a career as a music teacher. He was hit by a wrong driver on a Monday afternoon in March on I-94 near Fergus Falls, Minn.

His broken jaw, compound fractures and lacerated liver will heal, but the accident caused him to go blind.

"I try to keep my head up, try to keep positive about it," Youngblom said from the bed of the care facility he is recovering. "It's tough to deal with not being able to see, and dealing with what I'm going to be doing in the future."

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, between 2009 and 2013, 981 people were injured in wrong-way crashes, and 92 people were killed.  The Fox 9 Investigators took a deeper look at what's causing wrong-way crashes in Minnesota and what can possibly be done to stop it.

The trouble spots

The Fox 9 Investigators obtained wrong way crash data from 2005 through 2013 -- The crashes happened on every metro freeway.

The top three trouble spots were:

18 crashes -- I-394

13 crashes -- I-94 (between Minneapolis and St. Paul)

12 crashes -- I-35W (between Minneapolis and 494)

Nearly 80 percent of these crashes on interstates can be blamed on drivers who are impaired. But, when you look at all types of highways in Minnesota, alcohol is a contributing factor about only 40 percent of the time.

Are different sign placements needed?

Of course the ideal solution is to keep wrong way drivers off the freeway to begin with. In California, they've reduced wrong way crashes by installing "do not enter" and "wrong way" signs that are level with a driver's line of sight, and are easier to see during the day and night.

The California signs are placed only a few feet off the ground at windshield level. In Minnesota, the standard height is seven feet. In New York state, they found double-postings of signs (one sign at eye level and another on top of it) can also stop wrong way drivers.

MnDOT's current practice is to put up one warning sign on each side of the road.

"To my knowledge we haven't adjusted any sign heights," Brad Estochen from MnDot said. "If you're impaired I don't know if another sign is necessarily going to help you."

Avoid a wrong-way driver

Minnesota state trooper Kyle Klawiter was on routine patrol when he encountered a wrong-way driver on I-394. As he saw the headlights coming at him, he stopped in his lane and fortunately the driver went around him, versus crashing into the trooper's vehicle.

"I was just bracing for the worst," Klawiter said. "I was able to dump my speed just to brake, and then I held on."

Trooper Klawiter has a tip for drivers: Wrong-way drivers often stay in what they think is the right lane which is really the left lane for everyone else. Klawiter tells people not to drive in the left hand lane at night while on a freeway.

Chris Weiland was hit by a driver who was confused and got on Highway 169 the wrong way. Weiland was not seriously hurt, but reacted after remembering something he learned in driver's education: try and slow down to at least reduce the force of impact.

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