Approximately 350 people are killed by wrong-way accidents each year. While other factors contribute to wrong-way accidents, drunk driving is a key factor. Between 50 and 75 percent of these crashes are caused by a drunk driver.
Factors Associated with Wrong Way Accidents
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) analyzed data from wrong-way accidents to determine the common factors associated with these crashes.
- For accidents caused by a drunk driver, the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or above .15 which is almost twice the legal limit of .08.
- Older drivers are at a higher risk of causing a wrong way crash possibly because they have more difficulty seeing or reading signage because of poor vision.
- Drivers who are confused by signage or unfamiliar with the area they are driving in often cause accidents after entering an exit ramp.
- Over 75 percent of wrong-way crashes occur at night between 6 pm and 6 am for several reasons: poor visibility, fatigued driving, and more intoxicated drivers on the road.
- More wrong-way accidents occur on the weekend instead of on weekdays likely because more people drink and drive during that time.
- Wrong-way crashes occur in the lane nearest the road’s median in seven out of nine of these accidents.
Preventing Wrong-Way Crashes
To help prevent wrong-way crashes, cities and states have worked to improve signage and place barriers in problem areas where wrong-way driving is common. However, more needs to be done when dealing with drivers who head the wrong way because they are drunk. The first place to start is to address their likelihood of driving drunk. Many of the wrong way drivers in fatal accidents have a history of bad driving behaviors, including multiple DUI convictions.
Harsher DUI penalties and increased public awareness of the consequences of drunk driving are sometimes effective deterrents, but they do not always work. The NTSB recommends that DUI offenders should be required to have their vehicles equipped with an alcohol ignition interlock device or another type of alcohol detection device. These devices would prevent the driver from starting the vehicle if his or her BAC is over the legal limit of .08.