Wrong-way car crashes seem epidemic, since reports on them air almost every day. In fact, 400 Americans are killed annually in wrong-way driving accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
In Texas, a combined 2,800 persons were injured and 269 persons died in wrong-way crashes from 2011–2015, reports the Texas Department of Transportation. That’s an average of nearly 70 wrong-way fatality accidents per year in Texas alone, with the number rising by 13% from 2013 to 2014.
ABC News reports that such crashes are especially devastating since most involve high-speed, head-on collisions. In fact, nearly 25% of wrong-way crashes are fatal, while less than 1% of all other car crashes are fatal.
In Texas, wrong-way crashes caused 50 fatalities and 700 injuries in North Texas alone over the past four years.
North Texas hot spots for these types of car crashes included State Highway 360 in Arlington between I-30 and US 287. It was the site of seven recent wrong-way crashes with injuries.
Also, Central Expressway from downtown Dallas northward to Forest Lane has been the scene of 11 wrong-way crashes in the last four years, two of which were fatal. And in Fort Worth, I-30 close to Beach Street had three wrong-way crashes killing five people in that time.
San Antonio has had recent crashes in the 4500 block of southbound I-35 near Binz-Engleman Road (one dead); on a feeder road of FM 78 West (four injured); and on northbound NW Loop 1604 close to Stone Oak Parkway at Tuscany Stone (two injured).
Houston has had recent crashes in the 1900 block of eastbound Sam Houston Parkway (two dead); the eastbound North Loop near Irvington and Jensen (two dead); and East Loop 610 at Market Street (one injured).
With all the signs and road configurations designed to direct traffic properly, you may wonder why wrong-way crashes happen. The National Transportation Safety Board has some answers.
The majority of wrong-way crashes involve vehicles entering a highway exit ramp while going in the wrong direction, and they’re more likely to happen at night and on weekends. In fact, more than 75% of wrong-way crashes occur between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., the NHTSB says.
Sometimes drivers enter ramps going the wrong way because they’re unfamiliar with the area, or perhaps the posted signs aren’t clear. Also, drivers older than 70 may have trouble seeing signs, the NTSB says, and fatigued drivers also may make the mistake.
But most wrong-way drivers trying to enter a highway via an exit ramp are intoxicated. In fact, the NTSB says drivers who are driving under the influence cause at least 60% of wrong-way collisions.
Also, about 75% of wrong-way collisions occur in the lane nearest to the median, the NTSB reports.
The NTSB and other agencies believe many steps can be taken to prevent wrong-way crashes. These include placing more visible signs — perhaps with warning lights — at freeway exit ramps. Such signs might alert even drunk drivers that they’re going the wrong way.
It’s also believed that lowering road signs to correspond to the driver’s line of sight might help.
Also, the designs of on-ramps and off-ramps for highways can be altered to help guide the flow of traffic without as much confusion about the proper direction.
Beyond that, it’s up to individual drivers to guard themselves against these dangerous drivers.
As for how to avoid wrong-way drivers you encounter, if possible you should drive to the shoulder and stop, or at least slow down and try to stop your vehicle safely.
You also can sound your horn and flash your headlights to signal the wrong-way driver. Also, call 911 to report the driver to authorities.
Of course, always wear your seat belt and avoid driving distractions. Instead, drive defensively while keeping an eye out for wrong-way drivers.