Every day, drivers trust each other to follow the rules of the road in order to prevent injuries. Not only are they relying on others to drive while calm and sober, but they also presume that all drivers are properly trained and familiar with the roadways on which they travel. Unfortunately, a simple wrong turn can have devastating consequences—especially if that turn places a driver directly in the path of oncoming traffic.
Why Do Wrong-Way Accidents Keep Happening?
Wrong-way accidents occur when a driver accidentally steers the vehicle into the opposite direction of travel, colliding with cars traveling in the correct direction. These accidents are most likely to occur as a driver enters a freeway using the exit ramp, but they can also occur at low speeds on city streets. Driver error is the most frequent cause of wrong-way crashes, but vehicle malfunction or poor roadway design can also contribute to these accidents.
Drivers most commonly cause wrong-way accidents due to:
- Alcohol use. Research from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicates that over half of all wrong-way collisions involve an intoxicated driver. In many cases, drunk drivers in these accidents have a significantly high blood alcohol level, having consumed twice the legal limit or more.
- Advanced age. Elderly drivers are responsible for causing about 15 percent of wrong-way accidents. This may be due to an inability to recognize danger due to health complications (such as vision problems or dementia), or physical limitations that prevent them from correcting a mistake quickly enough to avoid a crash.
- Distractions. A driver who is not paying attention to the road ahead due to texting or talking on a cellphone may merge against traffic, turn onto the wrong highway ramp, or drive the wrong way up a one-way street.
- Unfamiliar roadways. Drivers who are unfamiliar with an area may not know how to navigate traffic circles, one-way streets, or the direction of travel in alleys. These drivers may cause wrong-way accidents on entry or as they attempt an illegal U-turn to follow the car’s navigation instructions.
- Detours. Rerouting traffic during construction can cause confusion, especially if parallel lanes are temporarily used for opposite-direction traffic. Without proper signage and lane-shifting techniques, drivers could continue driving in the wrong lane when the detour has ended.
- Road design issues. Highway interchanges, especially cloverleaf and partial cloverleaf designs, can pose a risk of collisions if entrance and exit ramps are parallel. If highway entrances and exits occur at intersections, drivers turning left may accidentally turn too shallowly, placing them in the path of traffic rather than on the opposing side.
- Lack of warning signs. Badly-marked ramps, lack of Do Not Enter signs, inadequate lighting, or signs obstructed by foliage could all cause a driver to enter a street the wrong way. Signs are vital because a driver may incorrectly enter an empty stretch of roadway, only realizing that they are traveling in the wrong direction when other vehicles appear.
- Defective auto equipment. A product designer or manufacturer may be held liable for a wrong direction crash if a defective tire, faulty steering system, or other defective auto component forced the driver to enter traffic facing the wrong direction.
Common Injuries in Wrong-Way Car Accidents
According to the NTSB, wrong-way crashes are many times more likely to be fatal than other types of car accidents, with death occurring in one out every five wrong-way accidents. This is because two vehicles barreling toward each other usually results in a head-on crash, which is likely to be fatal at highway speeds.
Even if victims survive these crashes, the injuries they sustain often require expensive surgery and hospitalization, long-term physical and emotional rehabilitation, and carry lifelong complications that make independent living difficult or impossible.
Common injuries from wrong-way driving collisions include:
- Head and neck injuries (such as whiplash or traumatic brain injury)
- Spinal cord injuries that result in partial or complete paralysis
- Internal injuries to organs in the chest or abdomen
- Broken bones (especially the pelvis, ribs, collarbone, arms, and legs)
If you've been injured in a serious car wreck, our attorneys can investigate the details of the case to determine who may be held responsible. Our lawyers provide injury clients with a free initial consultation and represent their interests on a contingency fee basis, meaning we do not collect anything unless we secure a recovery for you. To learn more about your claim, download a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.