Each year an average of 360 people nationwide are killed in wrong-way crashes, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The report states that although collisions involving wrong-way drivers only account for about three percent of accidents, wrong-way crashes cause serious injury and death because these are usually head-on crashes.
Several decades of research shows that wrong-way crashes have higher rates of fatalities than other types of accidents. In addition, data from 2004 to 2009 showed that 60 percent of fatal wrong-way crashes likely involved impairment by alcohol.
In Arizona, the number of cases of drivers going the wrong way increased more than eight percent between 2016 and 2017, with over 1,700 reported wrong-way incidents in 2017. That year, wrong way drivers caused 54 accidents, with 18 fatalities.
Arizona Takes Action Against Wrong-Way Driving
The state has been taking measures to reduce wrong-way driving. In the fall of 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) installed a thermal detection system in Phoenix.
The system uses cameras at exit ramps and along the interstate. When a camera spots a vehicle traveling the wrong way, it sends an alert to ADOT, which then sends messages to highway alert boards to warn drivers of the danger. If the system detects a wrong-way driver at an off-ramp, it activates a flashing red sign to alert the wrong-way driver.
In any case, the system also notifies law enforcement, who can then travel to the scene. As of mid-June, this technology had detected more than 12 wrong-way drivers.
The state has also installed hundreds of larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs throughout Arizona.
As part of Arizona’s effort to address the wrong-way driving problem, Governor Doug Ducey signed a law last year that imposes tougher penalties for motorists caught driving the wrong way. Wrong-way drivers in Arizona who are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol will now face felony charges, including a possible four months to 2½ years in prison. Anyone stopped for wrong-way driving will be fined $500 and will be required to attend traffic school.
“Drive Aware Get There” Safety Campaign
ADOT’S Drive Aware Get There safety campaign was launched to reduce wrong-way driving and help motorists learn what can they can do to protect themselves from a wrong-way driver.
Because research shows most wrong-way drivers are impaired, driving defensively is key to preventing a tragic encounter. Motorists are advised to avoid distractions while driving and to focus on their surroundings, including what is far ahead on the road, giving them a chance to spot any erratic driving and take action before it becomes an issue.
ADOT advises that if you are on a two-lane road, stay away from the center line to accommodate oncoming cars that may be closer to the center line. If you see a vehicle coming towards you, get to the side of the road and call 911. If you are on a highway, try to stay in the right lane, as wrong-way drivers are more likely to be in the far left lane or in the carpool lane.
If you see that a wrong-way driver is coming towards you, ADOT recommends you slow by easing your foot off the gas and try to steer away from the wrong-way driver. Again, if you can, get off the road and call 911.
Of all vehicle accidents, head-on collisions have the greatest potential to cause serious injuries and fatalities. Although Arizona is taking steps to reduce the chances of wrong-way driving, you can do your part to keep yourself and others safe by being alert, wearing your seat belt, not driving while impaired, and avoiding distractions while driving.