AAA: North Carolina Heading The Wrong Way With “Wrong-Way” Crashes

Charlotte, N.C. (News Release) – Fatal wrong-way driving crashes are a persistent and devastating threat that has grown significantly worse in North Carolina. According to the latest data analysis from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the average number of deaths from wrong-way crashes on divided highways in the state from 2015 to 2018 was 75 percent higher than the previous 5 years. That more than doubles the nationwide increase of 32 percent. Researchers found that the odds of being a wrong-way driver increased with alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger.

“Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are often fatal as they are typically head-on collisions,” said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “And unfortunately, as the data shows, fatalities from these crashes are on the rise.”

Researchers examined eight factors related to these types of crashes, and three stood out – alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger. Six in ten wrong-way crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Those with blood alcohol concentrations over the legal limit of 0.08 g/dl (grams per deciliter) were significantly more likely to be wrong-way drivers than non-alcohol-impaired drivers involved in the same crashes.

According to NCDOT, there were 164 deaths from 2000 to 2017 due to wrong-way crashes – and alcohol and/or drugs were involved in nearly half of all of these crashes. Of the 129 wrong-way crashes from 2000 to 2013, 68 of them involved alcohol. For more click NCDOT Data

Interventions like ignition interlock devices for all offenders and high-visibility enforcement operations can help reduce these types of crashes. An alcohol ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting until the driver provides a breath sample that registers below a pre-set low limit, usually around a BAC of 0.02

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly have filed ignition interlock legislation in order to begin modernizing current state law. The Senate introduced SB 183 a few weeks ago and the House companion bill, HB 402, was filed Wednesday afternoon.

The data also shows that drivers over age 70 are more at risk of wrong-way driving than their younger counterparts. Previous Foundation research from the AAA Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers project found that older drivers aged 75-79 spent less time on the road and drove fewer miles per trip than younger age groups. And yet, this same age group is over-represented in wrong-way crashes.

A passenger’s presence may offer some protection against being a wrong-way driver, as nearly 87% of wrong-way drivers were alone. Passengers may alert drivers that they are entering a one-way road, preventing them from entering the highway in the wrong direction, or alerting them to their error, helping the driver take corrective action before a crash occurs.

“If you notice a motorist driving the wrong-way, be vigilant and move to the right shoulder – be sure to avoid slamming on brakes or abruptly swerving,” said Tiffany Wright, Public Affairs Director, AAA – The Auto Club Group in the Carolinas. “Once out of harm’s way, call 911 to report the situation.”

AAA and the NTSB remind drivers to use common sense before getting behind the wheel.

Drive sober. If you consume marijuana or alcohol or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don’t drive. And if you’re going to drive, then don’t consume these substances.
Avoid driving while drowsy. Stop driving if you become sleepy because you could fall asleep at any time. Fatigue impacts reaction time and judgment, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.