How to Avoid a Wrong-way accident on the Interstate Highway

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Steve Lombardi, Attorney

On a weekly basis I collect and then post wrong-way accident links from around the world. If a wrong-way driver or accident or crash, or collision comes across my radar screen I'll post the title and link along with the short description. They are all listed on the Lombardi Law Firm Site under the heading Wrong-Way Collisions on Iowa's Interstate and State Highways. You can read my findings by following this link. Of course our view is greater than just Iowa, but I'm an Iowa lawyer with a Florida license too, so it is what it is.

If you think wrong-way drivers on the Interstate Highway system is a once-in-a-while thing, think again. Look at these reports from Google. It seems like there is an epidemic of wrong-way collisions and crashes out there. We've had several wrong-way drivers and accidents in Iowa.

About wrong-way drivers

Wrong way drivers present an obvious danger to all motorists on our highways. 

The most recent available crash statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates wrong way drivers are involved in 1.5 percent of all fatal crashes.

Drivers who travel the wrong way on one way highways generally fall into one of eight different categories:

  • Intoxicated driver
  • Older drivers who easily get confused
  • Purposeful acts including attempts to commit suicide and criminals attempting to elude the police
  • Inattentive drivers who mistake an off-ramp for an on-ramp
  • Mental defect or disease
  • Prescription drug intoxication
  • Inexperience
  • GPS providing incorrect, inaccurate or confusing information

Safety tips and information related to wrong way driver situations:

  • Watch far ahead for signs of a possible wrong way driver, looking for signs similar to pending problems or developing emergency situations such as other traffic braking or swerving to avoid something, or the obvious - headlights coming in the opposite direction.
  • Caution against driving long periods in the left lane on freeways, especially on curves and over a hill or any rise in the road where you aren't able to clearly see ahead.
  • Be aware that wrong way drivers usually drive in the passing lane believing they are actually on a two-lane highway.
  • The most common types of wrong way crashes are head-on or sideswipe crashes.

What should you do if you see a wrong-way driver?

  • Get to the shoulder and stop.
  • If you can't get to the shoulder, slow down and attempt to safely stop your vehicle by pulling to the right.
  • Sound your horn.
  • Put on your lights and flash the high beams.
  • Call 9-1-1.
  • Before getting in the car wear your seat belts.
  • Drive in the right hand lane of travel on the Interstate.
  • When passing or coming to the crest of a hill look ahead for a wrong-way driver making sure the lane is clear.
  • Assume when in the left hand lane of a divided highway that you may come upon a wrong-way driver.
  • When driving on a divided highway stay vigilant and pay attention to what is ahead of you. Avoid allowing distractions to take your attention off the road ahead.

How can drivers avoid wrong-way driving?

  • Don't drive drunk.
  • When coming to a divided highway come to a complete stop, look at and read the signs, making sure you know which way to go.
  • Don't allow vehicles to the rear to rush you.
  • Stay off the telephone when driving.
  • Don't allow distractions to interfere with being vigilant about your driving.
  • If you're a young driver, don't drive when the other passengers are a distraction.
  • If you're an elderly driver, get evaluated once a year to see if your senses and skill level allow you to safely drive. Don't be so stubborn about giving up your driver's license that you ignore the signs of perception difficulties. Invest in and use a GPS.
  • Pay particular attention when driving north for southbound wrong-way drivers. For whatever reason there were more of these direction wrong-way drivers than any other.
  • Pay particular attention when driving after midnight and 2:30 a.m.

What else needs to happen to reduce wrong-way collisions?

  • States could identify the locations of repeated wrong-way entry points. Those points could be redesigned including tire puncture equipment such as we see in use at most parking ramps.
  • The Court's must get very tough on drunk drivers and those who cause collisions from being on cell phones (talking or texting); more than they already have been.
  • The DOT should begin an education campaign for drivers to recognize and avoid wrong-way drivers.
  • The DOT should begin an education campaign to instruct drivers what to do when a wrong-way driver approaches.
  • States should further study wrong-way avoidance road and sign designs.
  • State DOT's should consider a different middle line design with hash marks bent in the direction of travel and against the opposing direction.
  • Juries in civil actions need to send a clear message to offenders with large punitive damage awards.
  • The DOT needs to evaluate older drivers annually for visual and mental awareness; taking away driving privileges where there is risk.
  • Lawyers need to plead punitive damages in wrong-way collisions.
  • Victims need to be educated on what to do when they are involved in a wrong-way collision.
  • Witnesses of wrong-way collisions need to get involved with identifying themselves to police officers investigating a wrong-way collision. Those witnesses may have very valuable information to helping identify the entry points, causes and preventive measures.
  • DOT accident forms need to be amended to allow the collection of information to identify characteristics associated with causing wrong-way entry points, times when wrong-way collisions are most likely to occur and driver characteristics of those likely to drive the wrong-way. Children and friends of older drivers need to get involved with identifying those likely wrong-way drivers.
  • States should consider a radio system that would allow public service interruptions, like what is done on television when a weather emergency is eminent. It wouldn't be perfect (not all radios are on) but something is perhaps better than nothing.

If you're in an accident on I-35, I-80 or I-235 or any of the other interstate highways in Iowa give me a call. If on I-35 we can help you; so feel free to contact us and as always because we'd rather you call sooner than later.


Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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