Traffic accidents can happen in so many ways, but none of them may be more terrifying than wrong-way collisions. Imagine traveling down the highway and suddenly finding a vehicle in your lane heading right for you. It’s so unexpected that your brain may waste several valuable seconds trying to make sense of what’s happening – and you may not have a safe exit path anyway. The scary truth has been examined in a highway special investigation report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) showing that there are more than 300 deaths on average each year due to wrong-way crashes. In Georgia, the numbers rose from 16 deaths in 2012 to 32 deaths in 2014 and, as of late September, there have been 29 deaths so far this year. Given the dynamics of head-on wrecks, it’s easy to see why they are more likely to result in fatal and serious injuries than are other types of highway accidents.
One of the most recent local crashes ended with the death of a veteran DeKalb County police officer whose patrol car was hit head-on by an SUV going in the wrong direction down South Fulton Parkway. The wrong-way South Carolina driver was seriously injured and has been charged with second degree motor vehicle homicide. While an investigation is ongoing, there is some evidence that the out-of-town driver was unfamiliar with the area and did not see faded, hidden signs near the Buffington Road ramp where it is believed she accessed the highway – signs that have since been fixed by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Reviewing fatal crash data and research sponsored by different states, the NTSB found that more than half and as many as three-quarters of wrong-way accidents are the fault of a drunk driver. In the cases where the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of the driver was reported, the majority of at-fault drivers were found to have a BAC at or above 0.15 percent (the legal limit is 0.08 percent). The NTSB also determined that wrong-way accidents were more likely to occur at night. In fact, 78 percent of fatal wrong-way collisions occurred between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., perhaps due to reduced visibility, increased tiredness and higher probability of intoxication.
Although some wrong-way driving results when an operator makes a U-turn or cuts across the median into oncoming traffic, the majority happen when the driver mistakenly enters an exit ramp. Suggested solutions include better pavement markings, mounting warning signs closer to the ground (approximately three feet), using oversized signs, better roadway lighting and installing wrong-way detection systems at problem interchanges.
Driving is a job, and to do it well, you have to always be alert for potential problems. The only real defense against wrong-way drivers is to watch ahead and, if you are on the highway at night, to stay in the right lane since many impaired drivers travel in the left lane (which they perceive as the right lane). At the Mann Law Firm, we have successfully represented victims throughout Georgia who have been seriously hurt by wrong-way drivers. We have also assisted families who have lost loved ones in wrong-way accidents. For advice on how to proceed next, or if you have any questions about this topic, call us at (478) 742-3381 or submit our online form.