Fatal wrong-way crashes are increasing on our nation’s highways because of driver impairment, solo driving and advanced age, a AAA analysis reports.
In Connecticut, however, where Nutmeggers have experienced their share of head-on wrong-way crashes in recent weeks, the numbers have dropped.
Between 2015 and 2018, there were more than 2,000 deaths nationally from wrong-way crashes on divided highways, an average of about 500 deaths a year. This reflects a 34% increase compared to the previous four years, says the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
But Connecticut has seen a 14% decline in the number of wrong-way crashes from 2010-2014 compared to 2015-2018. There were 29 fatalities reported between 2010 and 2014, compared to 20 in the subsequent four-year period. These figures are based on the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
In many cases, wrong-way drivers self-correct their actions before a head-on collision does occur, said Mayko. However, to mitigate such crashes over the last few years, the State has implemented specific roadway changes.
For example, since 2015, the state DOT has:
- Installed oversized, reflective signage along 800 expressway entrance/exit ramps;
- Installed 360-degree overhead traffic cameras that activate flashing signage when motorists drive the wrong way on roadways; and
- Identified hotspots to make roadway improvements; and
- Continued to repaint worn pavement markings and replace missing signage as needed.
In the study, AAA researchers examined eight factors related to wrong-way crashes. Of the eight, three emerged — alcohol impairment, advanced age, and driving without a passenger – as prime causes of fatalities.
“Alcohol impairment by far is the single most significant factor in the majority of wrong-way driving crashes,” said Fran Mayko, AAA Northeast spokeswoman. The study found alcohol played a role in 60% of the crashes where drivers had a blood alcohol concentration over the .08 legal limit.
The study also reported drivers over 70 are more at risk of wrong way driving than their younger counterparts. Although older drivers spend less time on the road and drove fewer miles per trip than younger age groups, they’re over-represented in wrong way crashes.
Drivers who travel solo tend to be involved in greater numbers of wrong-way crashes compared to those with passengers, the study said, because passengers may alert a driver to potential wrong-way errors. The study reported nearly 87% of wrong-way drivers traveled alone.