12 Mar How to Stay Safe Against Wrong-Way Drivers
Wrong-way drivers create havoc and danger on the road often resulting in deadly head-on collisions. There are defensive driving techniques you can employ to keep you safe in this dangerous situation.
As much as you can change your driving habits to help make the road a safer place to be, there is only so much a single driver can do. There’s no accounting for what actions other drivers take, including driving while intoxicated or sleep-deprived. One of the riskiest situations a driver can find themselves in is encountering a car driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), approximately 400 people are killed each year in the United States as a result of a wrong-way collision. Though this number only represents about 0.01% of road fatalities in the United States per year, wrong-way crashes often involve head-on collisions or opposite-direction side swipes, meaning individual incidents are typically more dangerous and extensive than other types of crashes.
Best Defense Tips Against Wrong-Way Drivers
Although there is little you can do to stop a wrong-way driver when he or she begins traveling into oncoming traffic, there are steps you can take to avoid being a victim. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles offers a few suggestions to drivers:
- “Stay right at night.” Approximately 78% of wrong-way incidents occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the center or left-most lane of flowing traffic. Impaired drivers tend to be aware they are impaired and will drive in the right lane, which is reserved for slower vehicles. This in fact is the left lane for vehicles traveling in the correct flow-of-traffic direction. Traveling in the right-hand lane will also make it easier and safer for you to pull off the road — the recommendation when encountering a wrong-way driver.
- Stay alert and don’t drive distracted. Keeping your wits about you — including refraining from using your hands-free phone or other technology —will help you to react in time when there’s an oncoming vehicle.
- Always scan the road ahead. Most drivers do not look further than 100 feet ahead of their vehicle, so consider increasing your range of vision to be aware of emergent situations sooner. Staying focused and aware of the road means you’ll be ready for potential danger.
- Use your turn signals. Be clear with other drivers what your intentions are, especially wrong-way drivers who may be confused about where they’re driving. This could also help the wrong-way driver know he or she is driving in the wrong direction.
- Wear your seat belt. Seat belts drastically improve your odds of survival in any situation, and this is especially the case in a head-on collision or side-swipe.
- Check road reflectors. Road reflectors contain two colors. White or yellow are most commonly seen by drivers heading in the correct direction, but on the opposite side is a red reflector to signal drivers when they are headed the wrong way.
Particularly at night or in an unfamiliar area, even the most alert or safe driver can make a mistake and enter a roadway or highway headed in the wrong direction. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has advice to avoid causing a wrong-way crash:
- Do not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Alcohol is involved with most wrong-way incidents, and staying sober means you’ll be more aware of your surroundings and street signs to direct you in the right direction.
- Learn and obey all traffic signs. If you drive past a wrong-way sign or lane marking, turn around as soon as it is safe to do so and head in the right direction.
Developing Tech Solutions to Prevent Wrong-Way Driving
Transportation agencies across the country are also at work designing infrastructure to lower instances of wrong-way driving.
For example, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has equipped 17 highway ramps in the state with blinking lights, traffic signs, red reflectors, and cameras as a trial program to mitigate wrong-way driving. The program was spurred by nine wrong-way crashes that occurred in 2015 in Sacramento and San Diego, leaving a total of 22 people dead.
The Arizona Transportation Board launched a project to install a thermal-detection system on highway ramps along Interstate 17. The thermal-detection cameras detect vehicles that are traveling in the wrong detection and will activate flashing lights, signs, and other messages to alert the driver to turn around.
Though relatively rare, the damage done by wrong-way collisions can be devastating. Luckily, they’re preventable, through developing transportation projects and simple safe driving practices. Your best defense is to stay alert, not panic, and pull off the road immediately if you see a wrong-way driver headed in your direction.