What Do I Need to Know About Wrong-Way Car Accidents?

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A wrong-way car accident occurs when a motorist drives in the opposite direction of traffic on a highway, resulting in a serious collision with a vehicle that is traveling in the right direction. Oftentimes, this can cause a high-speed head-on collision. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), up to 400 car accident fatalities are caused by wrong-way accidents each year. Although wrong-way accidents make up only approximately three percent of all motor vehicle accidents, they are the leading cause of car accidents that result in fatalities. Understanding some of the common causes of wrong-way accidents can help motorists take the necessary steps to avoid them. If a motorist is seriously injured in a wrong-way accident, a skilled car accident lawyer can assist the driver with the claims process and secure the financial compensation they deserve.

Motorists involved in a wrong-way accident rarely walk away from the crash without a scratch. In fact, if the vehicle occupants are lucky enough to have survived the accident, it is likely that they will have suffered very serious personal injury. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the fatality rate associated with wrong-way accidents is up to 27 percent higher than all other types of car accidents. The following are highlights from a NTSB-commissioned investigation into wrong-way car accidents:

  • Although rare compared with other types of car accidents, wrong-way accidents tend to be fatal.
  • Wrong-way accidents tend to occur at night, and in the lane closest to the median.
  • More than half of all wrong-way accidents are caused by drunk drivers.
  • The exact percentage is not yet known, but law enforcement officials report that a percentage of wrong-way accidents are caused by motorists who are under the influence of drugs.
  • Age-induced dementia, disorientation, and slower reaction times in older drivers increase the risk of wrong-way accidents.
  • The most effective prevention measures include traffic control devices, wrong-way signage, interchange design, and drunk driving prevention programs.

What are the Common Causes of Wrong-Way Accidents?

Although wrong-way accidents are some of the most devastating and destructive accidents that often lead to tragic fatalities, they are largely preventable. By avoiding unsafe and negligent driving behaviors, motorists can avoid causing a wrong-way collision. The following are examples of some of the most common causes of wrong-way accidents:

  • Drunk driving: According to the NTSB, over half of all wrong-way accidents are caused by drunk driving. Oftentimes, the impaired drivers have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is twice the legal limit.
  • Distracted driving: Drivers who are talking or texting on their phones or distracted by something or someone else in the car are more likely to turn onto the wrong highway ramp, merge against traffic, or drive the wrong way on a one-way street.
  • Drowsy driving: Motorists who are fatigued are more likely to miss a posted road sign or enter a ramp or highway going in the wrong direction.
  • Advanced age: Motorists who are advanced in age, who have dementia, or other physical or cognitive impairments may have slower reaction times or be unable to recognize or quickly correct a mistake in time to avoid a crash. Elderly drivers are responsible for approximately 15 percent of wrong-way accidents.
  • Unfamiliar roadways: Motorists who are unfamiliar with an area or how to navigate busy traffic circles are more likely to cause a wrong-way accident.
  • Detours: Traffic detours can cause confusion, particularly for motorists who are not familiar with the area or who are easily confused by confusing signage or lane shifting techniques.
  • Lack of clear warning signs: When road signs are not clearly marked, properly lit, or are blocked by overgrown foliage, motorists are more likely to enter a stretch of highway or an empty ramp while driving in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, it is only when the motorist sees oncoming vehicles that they realize that they are driving in the wrong direction.
  • Poor road design: Certain types of road designs can be very confusing, including circles, clover leaf designs, and jug handles. Poorly designed roads, roadways that are not well lit, or highway entrances and exits occurring at intersections cause an increased risk of a wrong-way accident.
  • Defective equipment: In some cases, a wrong-way accident can occur if a defective tire, steering system, brakes, or other mechanical component of the car forces the driver to enter the flow of traffic in the wrong direction.

What Injuries are Caused by Wrong-Way Accidents?

Unfortunately, wrong-way car accidents tend to cause very serious injuries if the motorists are lucky enough to survive the crash. Many of these injuries require hospitalization, extensive surgeries, and long-term rehabilitation. According to the NTSB, one out of every five wrong-way accidents results in a fatality. The following are examples of common injuries associated with wrong-way accidents:

  • Head and neck injuries, including whiplash, concussions, and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
  • Spinal cord injuries, which can result in partial or total paralysis
  • Organ damage and other internal injuries
  • Broken bones affecting the face, pelvis, ribs, collarbone, arms, and legs
  • Chest and thoracic trauma
  • Wrongful death

How Do I Avoid a Wrong-Way Accident?

Although motorists cannot control how other people drive, they can take proactive steps to follow the rules of the road and make safety a priority at all times. Preventing devastating wrong-way accidents is possible by using common sense and staying focused and alert every time a motorist is behind the wheel. The NTSB and AAA urge drivers to keep the following tips in mind whenever they are operating a motor vehicle:

  • Do not drink and drive: This unsafe, and illegal, driving behavior can increase the risk of a range of serious car accidents, including wrong-way accidents. Impaired drivers have reduced coordination and reaction times and are more likely to exceed the speed limit, which can make a wrong-way accident even more devastating.
  • Get enough sleep: Motorists who are sleep deprived or are feeling drowsy at all should avoid driving. Fatigue can have a negative impact on a motorist’s judgment and reaction time.
  • Stay in the right lane: This is the best way to avoid a wrong-way accident, since the majority of these collisions occur in the lane that is closest to the median.
  • Use extra caution when driving at night: The majority of wrong-way accidents occur at night and on weekends, so motorists should be careful when driving during these times.
  • Wear a seat belt at all times: When used properly, seat belts are effective at saving lives or reducing the severity of injury in the event of a car accident. The seat belt should fit snugly across the pelvis and rib cage.
  • Alert the wrong-way driver: If possible, a motorist who sees another driver on the wrong side of the road should do whatever they can to warn the other driver. Honking the horn, using the emergency flashers, or anything else that can alert the driver that he or she is on the wrong side of the road could help prevent a tragic accident.
  • Slow down: The first thing a motorist should do if he or she spots another driver going in the wrong direction is to slow down and move into the right lane to avoid a head-on collision. High-speed accidents result in more extensive property damage and more severe, even fatal, injuries.

What Damages May I Receive if I am Injured in a Wrong-Way Accident?

Victims of wrong-way accidents tend to suffer very serious injuries. Depending on the severity of the injury, the injured party may require extensive medical care, surgeries, physical therapy, and even long-term care. If the individual who caused the accident was drunk, distracted, speeding, or negligent in any other way, the injured victim may be eligible for financial compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. The following are examples of damages that victims may receive in a successful settlement:

  • Medical expenses: These include ambulance fees, surgeries, follow-up appointments, and medical equipment such as crutches and prescription medications.
  • Lost wages: If the injury prevents the injured motorist from returning to work, he or she may receive financial compensation for lost wages.
  • Pain and suffering: This is compensation for the physical and mental distress that the person suffers as a result of the accident.
  • Wrongful death: If the wrong-way accident caused a fatality, the surviving family members of the deceased may be eligible for death benefits, which cover funeral and burial costs, loss of future wages, medical expenses connected to the death, and loss of consortium.

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Wrong-Way Accidents

If you or someone you know was seriously injured in a wrong-way car accident, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We understand how devastating these accidents can be and the severe injuries they can cause. Our dedicated legal team will determine who is responsible for causing the accident and hold that person liable for his or her negligent behavior. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.