ORLANDO, Fla. – About 500 people are killed every year in wrong-way crashes on divided highways, according to AAA, which cites three factors in particular in those types of fatal wrecks.
AAA said nationwide research found that 2,008 people were killed in wrong-way crashes on divided highways from 2015 to 2018. In Florida, 135 people were killed during that same time period, an average of about 34 deaths a year, which is lower than the previous five-year period.
According to the travel agency, researchers found that the odds of being a wrong-way driver increased with:
- Alcohol impairment
- Older age
- Driving without a passenger
“Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are often fatal as they are typically head-on collisions,” said Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman. “My wife and I were traveling with our 1-year-old son, when we were nearly struck by a wrong-way driver. We know how fortunate we were to get out of the way; but sadly, many of the fatalities in this report represent innocent people who were not so lucky.”
Six in 10 wrong-way crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver, according to AAA. Half of the deaths recorded were the wrong-way drivers themselves, and about four in 10 were occupants of other vehicles, AAA said.
“Alcohol impairment is, by far, the single most significant factor in the majority of wrong-way driving crashes,” said NTSB Director of the Office of Highway Safety Dr. Rob Molloy. “We know that interventions like ignition interlock devices for all offenders and high-visibility enforcement operations will reduce these types of devastating crashes.”
The data also shows that drivers over age 70 are more at risk of wrong-way driving than their younger counterparts. The reasons could vary from fatigue, compromised vision or confusion.
Meanwhile, AAA says a passenger’s presence may offer some protection against being a wrong-way driver, as nearly 87% of wrong-way drivers were alone. Passengers may alert drivers that they are entering a one-way road, preventing them from entering the highway in the wrong direction or alerting them to their error, helping the driver take corrective action before a crash occurs.
Here’s what the AAA says drivers should do if they encounter a wrong-way driver:
- Slow down
- Move as far to the right as possible
- Avoid overly aggressive evasive reactions that may cause you to lose control of the vehicle
- Honk your horn, flash your headlights and turn on your hazard lights
- Pull over as soon as possible and call 911 to report the situation
- When driving at night on a multi-lane highway, travel in the center lane so you can move to the right or left to avoid a wrong-way driver