What causes a wrong-way highway collision?

Wrong-way driving accidents involve a vehicle that has somehow gotten turned around, moving against the flow of traffic as it enters the highway via an on-ramp or off-ramp -- and they account for about 300 to 400 deaths each year.

While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says that only about 3 percent of accidents on divided highways are caused by wrong-way drivers. However, those accidents are more likely than not to be serious, if not fatal, because they happen at such a high rate of speed.

How does this kind of accident happen? It depends a lot on exactly what caused the driver to become confused and enter the highway going the wrong direction. There are several possibilities:

-- The driver was inebriated or otherwise impaired. Drug and alcohol use are often involved in wrong-way driving accidents, so an investigation into the driver's blood alcohol level or use of drugs is always undertaken in these kinds of cases.

Younger drivers involved in a wrong-way accident are significantly more likely to be impaired due to drugs or alcohol than older drivers.

-- The driver was medically impaired. This could include a number of situations -- the driver could be the victim of low blood sugar, a stroke or dementia. His or her illness could simply impair his or her ability to understand the road signs and signals.

Older drivers are more likely to suffer from a medical condition that leads to a wrong-way collision than younger drivers -- simply because many of the conditions that can naturally create the mental confusion that leads someone to head against traffic are age-related diseases.

-- Distracted driving is also a problem that can lead to wrong-way accidents.

Distracted driving can cause drivers to miss the otherwise obvious warning signs that say "Do Not Enter" and "Wrong Way," and can occur at virtually any age.

-- On very rare occasions, off-ramps, which are the primary entrance points for wrong-way drivers to highways, will lack the necessary signs and visibility that make it easy to tell a driver is going the wrong way.

Inexperienced drivers and drivers in an unfamiliar area at night may be especially prone to ending up going up an off-ramp and onto the highway in the wrong direction.

Regardless of the reason, anyone victimized by a wrong-way collision should seek the help of a car accident attorney promptly.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, "Wrong-Way Driving," accessed June 15, 2017

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