Seeing a wrong-way driver heading down the highway on a collision course with your vehicle can be a terrifying experience. If you don't react fast enough, you could end up having a devastating head-on crash that results in fatal injuries. Tragically, wrong-way driving crashes are on the rise.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there were over 2,000 fatalities between 2015-2018 for an average of about 500 deaths per year — and they all took place on divided highways. That marks a 34% increase from the period of 2010-2014 when there were 375 deaths from that same kind of car crash.
Investigators say older age or driving without a passenger increases your odds of being a wrong-way driver, but the biggest contributing factor was without a doubt alcohol impairment.
“Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are often fatal as they are typically head-on collisions,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “And unfortunately, as the data shows, fatalities from these crashes are on the rise.”
Drunk driving deterrence is critical
Given how catastrophic and deadly head-on collisions are, AAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are calling for countermeasures and more education to help reduce the number of wrong-way driving crashes. Considering 6 out of 10 wrong-way crashes involved a driver impaired by alcohol, strengthening deterrence strategies is a good starting point.
“Alcohol impairment is, by far, the single most significant factor in the majority of wrong-way driving crashes, which unfortunately has not changed since the NTSB issued its Wrong-Way Driving special investigation report in 2012,” said NTSB Director of the Office of Highway Safety, Dr. Rob Molloy. “The important work done by AAA shows that we need to redouble our efforts to address this safety hazard."
Wrong-way crashes caused by drunk drivers may be reduced by:
- High-visibility enforcement operations
- Sobriety checkpoints
- Installation of alcohol ignition interlock devices (forces a driver to provide a breath sample before allowing the vehicle to start)
While these efforts can help deter drunk driving, the data revealed that older drivers (over age 70) are at a higher risk of driving the wrong way as well. Driver refresher courses, installing more visible signs and signals, infrastructure improvements, and legislation that helps recognize drivers who are physically or cognitively at-risk are all steps that can be taken to help combat the problem.
How you can avoid a wrong-way crash
Since drunk driving puts you the most at risk of being involved in a wrong-way crash, the best way to avoid such an accident is to never drive under the influence of alcohol. Other tips to avoid a wrong-way collision include:
- Don't drive if you use marijuana or any other substance that may cause impairment, such as prescription medications.
- If you are feeling tired, fatigued, or drowsy, stop driving. Just like alcohol, fatigue can have an effect on your reaction time and judgment.
- Be extra careful when driving at night, in the early morning, and on the weekends. It's been shown that the majority of wrong-way crashes take place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Since most wrong-way crashes are caused by drunk drivers during this timeframe, it's critical that you remain attentive.
- If possible, drive with a passenger. About 87% of wrong-way drivers were operating solo. Passengers offer protection to drivers because they can speak up if they see you about to go the wrong way down a one-way road or highway ramp.
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