The most fundamental rule of driving should be to drive in the correct direction. Yet every year, drivers kill or severely injure others because they are going the wrong way.
Wrong-way driving is driving a vehicle in a lane or on a road in the opposite flow of traffic. According to the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), while wrong-way accidents account for just 3% of crashes on high-speed divided highways, they are much more likely to cause a fatality or catastrophic injury than other types of accidents. On a yearly basis, about 360 people die due to 260 wrong-way highway collisions.
A car traveling the wrong way often causes head-on crashes, which are the deadliest types of crashes there are. If the car going in the wrong direction is traveling at 70 mph strikes a car traveling in the correct direction that is going at 65 mph, then the accident is comparable to one in which a car traveling 135 mph strikes a parked car.
Survivors are likely to suffer life-changing injuries including spinal cord damage, paralysis, traumatic brain injury, burn injuries, internal organ damage, and broken bones.
Why do wrong-way accidents occur?
The leading cause of wrong-way accidents is drunk driving. According to NTSB and data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), of the drivers involved in wrong-way accidents:
- 59% of the drivers were extremely drunk with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .15 or more.
- 10% had a BAC between .08 and .15
- 2% had a positive BAC below .98
- 29% had no alcohol in their blood system according to breath or blood tests
Some of the other leading reasons why a driver may end up driving the wrong way include:
- Age. Compared to other age groups, older drivers are more likely to be involved in wrong-way crashes than younger drivers.
- Driver distraction. Driver distraction includes texting while driving, talking while driving, eating or drinking while driving, and any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off the road and his/her mind away from the traffic conditions. Distracted drivers are likely to veer into other lanes, fail to know a street is for one-way traffic, and enter or fail to enter ramps and turn-offs.
- Entering an exit ramp. Many wrong-way movements occur because a driver mistakenly enters an exit ramp. Drivers can enter the wrong lane when they make a U-turn after they miss an exit ramp.
- Poor lighting or vision. According to the NTSB and FARS, 78% of wrong-way accidents happen between 6 pm and 6 am.
- Driver fatigue. Tired drivers should get off the road as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the driver to drowse, lose concentration, or even fall asleep at the wheel.
- Unfamiliarity with roads. Drivers who are unfamiliar with the roads may be more likely to cause a wrong-way crash, especially if they are distracted by maps or GPS.
Is a wrong-way driver always to blame?
Not all wrong-way crashes are entirely the fault of the driver. Inadequate or missing signage and lack of lighting can all play a role in a wrong-way collision. For example, if a one-way sign is covered by untrimmed greenery, or if a road crew fails to put up signs indicating changes in direction for on and off ramps, the driver is not solely to blame.
Road design can also play a role. Generally, it is easier to miss an off-ramp if it is on your left than on your right, because most of the time, you exit to the right. Some ramps such as clover leaf ramps can be especially confusing to drivers who are drunk, distracted, or tired.
Reducing the risk of wrong-way crashes
States should enforce their driving under the influence laws to get as many dangerous drivers off the road as possible. In Tennessee, drivers who are convicted of a DUI or refuse to take a breath test may be ordered to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on their vehicles. An IID requires that the driver blow into the device before he/she starts their car and while they are driving. If their BAC is too high the car either will not start or will flash and blare loudly forcing the driver off the road.
Other design and safety precautions include:
- Installing wrong-way signs that flash in areas known for wrong-way accidents
- Installing wrong-way signs on and near exit ramps
- Using structures or spikes to prevent drivers from entering from the wrong direction
- Strong lighting in high-risk locations
- Sensors that detect when vehicles are traveling the wrong way
- Extra police officers in high-risk areas
- Better ramp designs
Newer technology may also offer some solutions to preventing wrong-way driving and forcing wrong-way drivers off the road.
One of the best ways to reduce wrong-way traffic accidents is to hold irresponsible drivers accountable for the deaths and injuries they cause. Our Memphis car accident lawyers have the experience and resources to hold wrong-way drivers liable. If a member of your family dies due to a wrong-way driver, we file wrongful death claims on behalf of the surviving family members.
If you or a loved one survive a wrong-way crash but suffer injuries as a result, we demand compensation for your:
- Pain and suffering
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Hospital, doctor, and therapy bills
- Prosthetics, other medical devices, and medication
- Lost income – past and future
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages, if applicable
In addition to filing claims against the driver, we may file a lawsuit against:
- The owners of the vehicle if they’re not the same as the driver
- A tavern or any entity that sold liquor to someone who was visibly intoxicated or to a minor – if the drinker caused the crash
- The Tennessee Department of Transportation for improper design or maintenance
- Construction sites that may steer you in the wrong direction while they are working
- Any other responsible defendants
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our Memphis car accident lawyers have been fighting for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians for nearly 35 years. There’s no excuse for driving in the wrong direction. Drivers who cause head-on collisions should pay for causing anyone to lose their life and anyone who suffers a severe injury due to their reckless conduct. To assert your right to damages, schedule a free consultation with our experienced car accident lawyers at our Memphis and Jackson offices by calling 901-475-7434 or using our contact form.
As founder of Bailey & Greer, R. Sadler Bailey has battled his fair share of insurance giants and wrongdoers and has achieved numerous multimillion-dollar results for the victims of catastrophic injuries and their families. What’s more, he has been involved in more than 40 appellate court decisions affecting Tennessee personal injury law, including many landmark appearances before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Read more about R. Sadler Bailey