Wrong-way accidents occur when a driver steers a vehicle into the opposite direction of travel, colliding with a vehicle traveling in the right direction. These accidents commonly take place on freeways or highways, but can also occur at low speeds on city streets. Although driver error is the most frequent cause of wrong-way crashes, there are many parties who may be held accountable for these accidents.
Actions that Lead to Wrong-Way Accidents
According to The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the fatality rate in wrong-way crashes can be between 12 and 27 percent higher than other types of collisions. This is because two drivers traveling directly at each other typically results in a head-on collision, which is likely to be fatal at highway speeds.
Drivers most commonly cause wrong-way accidents after:
- Crossing the median. Wrong-way accidents may occur if a driver runs off the left side of a highway, crosses the median, and steers into the path of cars headed in the other direction.
- Turning onto one-way roads. Drivers who are unfamiliar with an area may not anticipate one-way streets, accidentally turning onto roads where traffic is pointed in the opposite direction.
- Accidentally entering a highway. Drivers may accidentally enter a highway on an unmarked or poorly-designed exit ramp, causing them to accelerate quickly before colliding with oncoming traffic.
- Incomplete passing. Drivers on two-lane highways may not return to the correct lane quickly enough after passing a vehicle, colliding with oncoming traffic, and potentially causing a multi-vehicle wreck.
Common Factors in Wrong-Way Car Accidents
Wrong-way accidents cause hundreds of fatalities every year, but even if victims survive these crashes, the injuries they sustain are likely to be life-changing. Common injuries in these collisions often include bone fractures, head injuries, whiplash, internal bleeding, or spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis. These injuries can have long-term effects—even after extensive rehabilitation—and the victim’s insurance may not be enough to pay for the full extent of losses.
Victims in wrong-way accidents have a right to seek damages from the responsible party. Common forms of negligence in these cases may include:
- Driving under the influence. Research indicates that over half of all wrong-way driving accidents involve an intoxicated driver. Most incidents involving wrong-way drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol occur on weekends, especially during the hours between midnight and 3 a.m.
- Distracted driving. A driver who is texting or talking on a cell phone may take the wrong ramp onto an empty stretch of roadway, only realizing that they are traveling in the wrong direction when other vehicles are headed straight toward them.
- Drowsy or tired drivers. Falling asleep while driving is a common cause of median-crossing collisions. Tired drivers are not only more likely to veer off the roadway, they also have less time to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a head-on collision.
- Teenage or elderly drivers. Most drivers who accidentally enter a roadway from the wrong direction will immediately realize the danger and turn around. However, drivers who lack training (such as teenagers) or have physical limitations (such as senior citizens) may not be able to extract themselves from these situations quickly enough to avoid a crash.
- Detours. Rerouting traffic due to construction can cause confusion, especially if parallel lanes are temporarily used for opposite-direction traffic. Without proper signage and lane-shifting techniques, some drivers may continue on lanes traveling in the opposite direction.
- Poor roadway design. Highway interchanges can confuse some drivers, especially if they are traveling in an unfamiliar area. Cloverleaf designs, badly marked ramps, lack of warning signs, inadequate lighting, or signs obstructed by foliage may all cause a driver to enter a wrong-way street.
- Defective auto equipment. In some cases, wrong direction crashes may be the result of defective auto equipment. A product designer or manufacturer may be held liable if a faulty tire, steering system, or other component forced the driver to enter traffic facing the wrong direction.
If you were injured in a wrong direction car accident, our injury attorneys have offices in Illinois and Missouri to advise you on your next steps and legal rights. Download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!, or contact the Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm via our online contact form to schedule an appointment.