How to Protect Yourself from a Wrong Way Driver

Lawrence V. Najarian, MDNote from AAHPO President Lawrence V. Najarian, MD: Recently, while driving at night on a highway, my family was almost killed by a wrong way driver. The only thing that saved my family was a reflexive understanding of the situation that I developed after reading about a fatal, wrong way driver accident that happened in our area two years ago. That understanding was critical to my reaction in the few seconds I had to grasp and respond to this situation. I would like to share information about wrong way drivers to help others who may find themselves in this dangerous situation that I thought would never happen to me.

Photo courtesy NTSB

Wrong-way driving, where a driver operates a vehicle the wrong way on a road or highway against the intended flow of traffic, can result in some of the most severe types of crashes according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that despite accounting for only 3.7% of all fatal crashes on divided highways between 2010 and 2018, a high percentage of these incidents are fatal as they typically result in head-on collisions.

A study of wrong-way driving from the Iowa State University Institute for Transportation notes that wrong-way driving can occur on a variety of roadways including divided highways, freeways or arterial roads. These events are often associated with driver confusion resulting from roadways that are challenging to navigate.

Recent data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also shows a concerning rise in fatalities related to wrong-way crashes. An average of 500 deaths occurred annually from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, a 34% increase from 375 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014. Wrong-way drivers made up 52.8% of fatalities from wrong-way driving crashes followed by their passengers (5.7%) and occupants of other vehicles (41.1%) between 2010 and 2018. These numbers remained elevated as roughly 500 people died in wrong-way crashes annually in 2019 and 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).


What to Do if You Encounter a Wrong Way Driver

It’s essential to take immediate and decisive actions to protect yourself and others from a wrong way driver. Here are some steps to follow if you encounter a wrong-way driver:

  1. Stay calm and focus on your own driving.
  2. Quickly assess the situation to determine the best course of action.
  3. Safely and promptly move to the right lane or shoulder, and create as much distance as possible from the wrong-way driver.
  4. Do not swerve into oncoming traffic or abruptly change lanes, as this can increase the risk of a collision with other vehicles.
  5. Obey traffic signals and signs while trying to distance yourself from the wrong-way driver.
  6. Signal and Honk:
    – Turn on your headlights and hazard lights to make yourself more visible.
    – Honk your horn to alert the wrong-way driver and other nearby motorists.
  7. Dial 911 to report the situation, and provide information about your location, the direction of travel of the wrong-way driver, and any other relevant details.
  8. Avoid confronting the wrong-way driver or attempting to block their path. Let law enforcement handle the situation.

Remember that your safety and the safety of others are the top priorities. Always use your best judgment and follow the guidance of emergency services when encountering a wrong-way driver.

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