An early morning crash on April 14 on the Interstate 17 near Greenway Road in Phoenix, which killed three people, was the seventh wrong-way car accident on Arizona’s freeways in 2017. According to a Cronkite News report, in this particular accident, the wrong-way driver, a 22-year-old man drove southbound in the northbound lanes before crashing head on into another vehicle carrying two Grand Canyon University students. This was the seventh wrong-way collision involving serious injuries and/or fatalities just since the beginning of this year, according to Arizona Department of Public Safety officials.

The Problem of Wrong-Way Drivers

National statistics show that 31 percent of wrong-way crashes occur between midnight and 3 a.m. and that drivers often mistakenly enter an exit ramp instead of an entrance ramp. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has said that it has taken measures to reduce the risk of wrong-way drivers including installing larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs along exit ramps at six freeway interchanges.
The signs have also been lowered on posts to see if that could help alert confused or impaired wrong-way drivers. In addition to these larger freeway signs to alert drivers, ADOT has added pavement markers shaped as arrows pointing the right way along exit ramps. The markers have red reflectors to warn drivers traveling the wrong way on ramps. ADOT is apparently in the final states of a wrong-way detection pilot project for the Interstate 17 in Phoenix where the most recent fatal wrong-way crash occurred.
This system will include separate wrong-way vehicle detectors on freeway on-ramps as well as warnings on overhead message boards for drivers going the right way. Ramp meters will display a solid red light to keep traffic from entering the freeway when a wrong-way vehicle is detected. Officials are asking the public to do its part by focusing on driving, being aware of their surroundings at all times and driving defensively.

Severity of Wrong-Way Collisions

Wrong-way driving is said to occur when a vehicle travels in an opposing lane of traffic or uses the access ramp going in the opposite direction. When a vehicle crosses over a median and goes into opposing lanes of traffic, that is also defined as wrong-way driving. The National Transportation Safety Board, in 2012, conducted a study of wrong-way crashes particularly because of the severity and the devastation caused by these collisions. The study found that wrong-way collisions occur relatively infrequently, accounting only for about 3 percent of accidents on high-speed divided highways. But, these crashes are much more likely to result in fatal and serious injuries than other types of highway accidents.
Why are these accidents so severe? The severity of an accident could be understood in terms of the crash dynamics. The vast majority of wrong-way collisions on controlled-access highways are head-on crashes. The NTSB reports cites a substantial body of research conducted by state departments of transportation over decades, which support the fact that wrong-way collisions tend to have a higher fatality rate than other types of accidents. A study in Virginia found that the fatality rate for wrong-way collisions on controlled access highways to be 27 times that of other types of accidents. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) found a fatality rate 12 times greater in wrong-way collisions. A Michigan study found that 22 percent of wrong-way collisions were fatal compared to 0.3 percent for all highway accidents in the same time frame.

Understanding These Crashes

Here are some findings researchers have consistently made when it comes to wrong-way driving:

  • More than half and possibly as many as three-quarters of wrong-way drivers are impaired by alcohol. An NTSB analysis of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that 60 percent of fatal crashes involve drivers impaired by alcohol.
  • More than half or 59 percent of wrong-way drivers with a reported blood alcohol concentration (BAC) had a BAC at or above 0.15, which is almost twice the legal limit (0.08).
  • Drivers over the age of 70 are over-represented as at-fault drivers in wrong-way collisions compared to other types of highway accidents. FARS data also show that people over 70 years of age constitute less than 3 percent of right-way drivers involved in fatal wrong-way collisions. However, those in that age group constitute nearly 15 percent of wrong-way drivers in these crashes.
  • Wrong-way crashes primarily occur when motorists are entering or exiting freeway access ramps. It could also happen when they are making U-turns or cross a median or solid double yellow lines into opposing lanes of traffic.

Protecting Yourself from a Wrong-Way Driver

It can be challenging to avoid a wrong-way driver. But law enforcement officials around the country offer a number of tips and pointers on how drivers can protect themselves. Especially at nighttime and during transitional light times such as dawn or dusk, motorists would be well advised to stay in the right lane to avoid a crash with a wrong-way driver.
Call 911 immediately if you spot a wrong-way driver. If you see a wrong-way driver approaching you, immediately reduce your speed and get off the roadway. Stay alert and get rid of all distractions. If you drive past a wrong-way sign, turn around immediately. Look for ADOT dynamic messaging signs and wrong-way driver alerts. When you see an alert, reduce your speed, move over to the right and proceed with extreme caution.

If You Have Been Injured

If you have been injured in an Arizona wrong-way crash, you may be eligible to receive compensation for the injuries, damages and losses you have suffered. In addition to facing criminal charges, the at-fault driver can be held financially responsible for the damages caused in a wrong-way crash. This could include medical expenses, lost income, hospitalization and rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering and emotional distress. If you have lost a loved one in a wrong-way collision, you may be able to file what is known as a wrongful death claim seeking compensation as well. An experienced Arizona personal injury lawyer will be able to fight for your rights and hold the at-fault parties accountable.
Injured? Call (480) 745-1770 today to get help from one of our experienced attorneys. Our compassionate professionals are ready to help you get the answers you need.