Everyone has a version of the same story: the wrong-way driver heading in your direction, the high beams blinding your eyes, the clock stuck at half-past midnight.
But if you are alert, aware and lucky, a familiar exit ramp or side street is nearby. You escape, dial 911 to report the driver, and hope no one was behind you.
Why wrong-way driving is so dangerous
Wrong-way accidents cause between 300 and 400 fatalities each year, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). It happens here in Alabama, including one last November. Most wrong-way driving accidents are head-on collisions which, if not fatal, usually result in serious injury.
Driver error is the most frequent cause of wrong-way accidents. Most happen due to drivers entering a highway exit ramp, more so than entrance ramps. Or they occur while using an emergency turnaround – often illegally – while on the highway.
Other causes include:
- Drivers under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications
- Distracted drivers
- Drivers unfamiliar with the roadways
- Poor ramp design
- Poorly marked ramps
- Drowsy drivers
Between 50 and 75 percent of all wrong-way driving accidents involve intoxicated drivers, and most of these accidents happen on weekends and between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m.
How wrong-way accidents can be prevented
To avoid wrong-way drivers, the FHA suggests looking behind the first few cars ahead and scanning the entire width of the roadway, not just ahead in your current lane of travel.
- Always traveling in the right lane, if possible, is the safest bet for avoiding an oncoming wrong-way driver. The wrong-way driver may be confused and assume the right is the slowest, but in the opposite direction, the wrong-way driver’s right is actually the left lane, also known as the fast lane.
- Another reason to travel to the right is to avoid the wrong-way drivers who may be on the wrong side after crossing the center median. A National Transportation Safety Board study found that seven out of every nine wrong-way accidents occur in the lane closest to the median.
- Reducing the likelihood of any accident requires staying alert, focused and avoiding distractions. Drivers wrapped up in activities while behind the wheel are less prepared to react as quickly as needed to potential oncoming dangers.
Some states, including Texas, Nevada and Rhode Island, are investigating ways to implement plans to prevent wrong-way accidents, including:
- Flashing “wrong-way” signs in high-risk areas.
- Having the words "wrong way” or arrows painted onto the pavement.
- Surveillance and sensor detection that recognize a wrong-way vehicle, notify the driver, and notify police.
If you have been injured in a crash caused by a wrong-way driver, contact Dean Waite & Associates today.