In 2014, a woman driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 hit another car head-on. The passengers of the other car – teenage brothers – were taken to a nearby hospital, and one boy later died from his injuries. The woman that caused the crash was sentenced to 13 years in prison for felony driving under the influence resulting in death and felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury.
Sadly, that I-85 wreck is typical of many wrong-way crashes – multiple injuries or fatalities are common when two vehicles collide head-on, and alcohol is a contributing factor in the majority of crashes.
In a 2012 special report on wrong-way driving, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that while other types of fatal crashes have declined in recent years, wrong-way crashes have not. It’s a troubling problem, and regulators, concerned citizens, and law enforcement agencies wonder what can be done to stop these tragic crashes.
If a wrong-way crash has harmed you or a member of your family, Louthian Law Firm may be able to help. You could be entitled to compensation that covers property damage, injuries, loss of income and, in some cases, pain and suffering. Call us today for a no-obligation consultation at 1-855-572-8201.
Facts About Wrong-Way Crashes
The 2012 report from the NTSB states that wrong-way crashes are relatively rare, accounting for about 3 percent of collisions on divided highways. But because the majority of wrong-way crashes are head-on collisions, they are much more likely to be fatal than other types of crashes. About 360 people die each year in wrong-way crashes.
The most common driver error that leads to wrong-way crashes is entering an exit ramp from the wrong direction. At night, when most wrong-way crashes occur, drivers may not see signs warning them they’re going the wrong way, and when they’re under the influence of alcohol, they may be less likely to notice warning signs.
Alcohol is a factor in a large percentage of wrong-way crashes. In an analysis of fatal wrong-way crashes between 2004 and 2009, the NTSB found 59 percent of drivers had a blood alcohol content equal to or greater than .15 percent, nearly twice the legal threshold of intoxication of .08 percent. An additional 10 percent of drivers had a BAC of at least .08 percent.
In 2013, the NTSB had recommended lowering the legal threshold for intoxication to .05 percent BAC, because experiments had determined that at .05 percent, people in simulated driving tests showed impaired eye movement, perception, and reaction time. No states have revised state law to include a lower BAC, probably because police already have the authority to arrest drivers with a BAC of less than .08 percent, if the drivers appear to be impaired or fail field sobriety tests.
Alcohol affects individuals differently, depending on a number of factors, such as weight, gender, diet, and even the amount of sleep they’ve had. What’s clear is that any amount of alcohol can interfere with one’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
If you were injured in a wrong-way crash and the other driver was under the influence of alcohol, call us to ask about what options you may have for holding that person financially accountable: (803) 454-1200.
Signs and Traffic Controls
No data exists about the number of wrong-way crashes that have been avoided because a driver noticed a “Wrong Way” road sign just in time. But without such signs, wrong-way crashes would surely occur more often.
The Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices sets the national standard for traffic signs, signals, and road markings. Some standards are advisory, but some are mandatory, like the rules that apply to exit-ramp signage.
At least three signs must be posted on exit ramps: One Way, Do Not Enter, and Wrong Way. They must also conform to MUTCD size specifications.
According to the NTSB 2012 report, when the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration investigated sites where wrong-way crashes had occurred, it found some locations had signs smaller than the required size, and some exit ramps did not have all required signage. Transportation departments put drivers in danger when they don’t follow rules about warning signs.
The MUTCD says exit-ramp warning signs must be at least five feet off the ground; however, it gives states leeway to lower exit-ramp warning signs to three feet – in line with driver eyesight – if transportation departments feel there are areas where lower signs might prevent wrong-way crashes.
Some states have already begun lowering exit-ramp warning signs, and while it may take some time to measure how effective they are at preventing wrong-way crashes, a toll-road operator in Texas who tested lower signs found they reduced wrong-way highway entries by more than half.
A Duty to Others
Drivers have a responsibility to avoid endangering others, but when people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving, or are driving while distracted, they are putting other people at risk of serious injury.
Any type of impairment or inattention can lead to wrong-way crashes, even when exit ramps are outfitted with warning signs. When those signs aren’t present or aren’t highly visible, drivers may be more likely to enter a highway from the wrong direction.
If a wrong-way crash has hurt someone in your family, we want to help you by making sure the people responsible are held accountable. To request your no-obligation consultation, fill out our online form or call us today at (803) 454-1200.