Earlier this month, a California man was arrested after causing a car accident while driving the wrong way on Highway 101. Another collision this March that killed two people was caused by a wrong-way driver on I-5. In February, a young Chicago man was sentenced to eight years in prison for killing a young law student and severely injuring another after he drove his SUV the wrong way on a twisting portion of Lake Shore Drive with a blood-alcohol level over twice the legal limit. While wrong-way crashes do not occur every day, they are more likely to be fatal than any other type of car accident. Over 260 wrong-way crashes occur every year, killing over 350 people.
Severity of Collisions
Accidents caused by wrong way drivers have become such a serious concern that the National Transportation Safety Board released a Highway Special Investigation Report to examine this problem and posit solutions. While wrong way collisions are relatively infrequent occurrences, making up only three percent of highway accidents, the severity of these occurrences is what makes them so serious. Wrong-way collisions are much more likely to result in fatal or extremely serious injuries than any other kind of crash, likely because most are head-on collisions at high speeds. Wrong-way collisions are estimated to have a fatality rate of 22-27 percent higher than all other highway accidents compared to 0.3 percent for all highway accidents.
Every accident is different and will be caused by a variety of factors, but the NTSB found several factors most likely to be associated with wrong-way collisions.
60 percent of wrong-way drivers had alcohol in their systems, and this percentage is likely underreported; this number may be as high as 75 percent. From 2005-2009, 52 percent of wrong-way drivers in California were driving while impaired.
Of the 60 percent under the influence of alcohol, 10 percent had BACs between .08 and .15 (slightly over the legal limit of .08) and 59 percent had a “high BAC” at or above .15 (twice the legal limit).
Nine percent of wrong-way drivers had been convicted of driving under the influence within three years of the collision.
Most wrong-way drivers are between the ages of 20 and 50.
In age groups from 70-80 and above, there were more wrong-way drivers than right-way drivers (i.e. drivers traveling in the correct flow of traffic), making this age group more likely to be involved in wrong-way collisions.
A California study from the 1960s showed that a large percentage of wrong-way drivers operate vehicles without being licensed and that they were more likely to have received driving violations and felony convictions and to have been involved in more car accidents of all types.
78 percent of wrong-way collisions occur between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., with 31 percent occurring between midnight and 3:00 a.m. and more than half occurring on the weekend.
The majority of wrong-way collisions occur in the “fast lane” (the lane closest to the median).
Entrances and exits to highways are the primary means for wrong-way drivers to incorrectly enter the highway, so poorly lit or confusing signage may contribute to wrong-way driving.
Some states are introducing pilot programs to install bigger signs, pavement markings, and even radar-triggered LED warning signs if a vehicle enters a highway from the off-ramp, which could make a significant difference in wrong-way collisions by keeping drivers off the high-speed roads. Cracking down on driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is another crucial component, as alcohol is a common factor in the majority of these collisions.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident, contact the Sargent Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your case. Our experienced San Diego car accident attorneys will work hard on your behalf.