This guest post is from Herbert G. Farber, founder of The Farber Law Group located in Bellevue, Washington.

In Seattle, we’ve recently been reminded that wrong way drivers are a rare, but extremely injurious peril on our roads. Motor vehicle accidents caused by wrong way drivers often cause catastrophic injuries or even death and contribute to 3 percent of all automobile accidents and 5-10 percent of all automobile accident fatalities. There are nearly 350 people killed every year on major highways caused by drivers driving against traffic. Wrong way driving accidents on highways are especially deadly because of the tremendous force created in a collision between cars travelling at high speed in opposite directions.

It’s hard to imagine how a driver could be so unaware as to drive a short distance in the wrong direction on an interstate highway. However, not too long ago, a woman actually drove 17 miles in the wrong direction on Interstate 5 in the Seattle area. Fortunately, police officers were able to stop this woman using spike strips before she caused an accident.  Just a few days later, five teenagers were injured when the car they were riding in was hit on the same highway by another wrong way driver.

Wrong way driving on freeways and highways is definitely a public safety issue. Causes of wrong way driving can include:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is the most common cause of wrong way driving. Intoxicated drivers are often so impaired that they do not interpret signs nor do they even realize they are driving the wrong way. In nearly 75 percent of all wrong way driving accidents, the driver is impaired.
  • Illegal U-Turns.  Sometimes drivers realize they are not headed in their intended direction and they will make an illegal U-Turn.
  • One Way Streets. In urban areas drivers will sometimes turn the wrong way on a wrong way street.
  • Confusion.  Elderly drivers sometimes become confused when they are driving. Some elderly drivers also have vision problems especially at night.
  • Poor Roadway Design or Signage. Sometimes poor highway design or inadequate signage is a factor in wrong way driving. “Do not enter” signs should be located where they can be illuminated by vehicle headlamps. Certain types of highway ramps including left-hand off-ramps have an increased number of wrong way accidents.
  • GPS systems providing incorrect or confusing directions.

Whatever the cause, wrong way driving accidents can leave those involved with serious injuries including traumatic brain injuries, blunt force trauma injuries, whiplash injuries and fractures.

Avoiding wrong way drivers requires constant vigilance. As you drive, you should scan the roadway ahead of you and notice potential problems such as brake lights, swerving or headlights coming in your direction. If you see a wrong way driver you should move to the shoulder or as far right as possible and stop your vehicle.  You can also flash your high beams. If possible, call 911. In the case of the Washington driver who drove 17 miles in the wrong direction, vigilant motorists alerted police by calling 911 thus averting an accident.

Photo Credit: thienzieyung

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.