Wrong-Way Auto Accidents in Arizona

Wrong-way auto accidents are exceedingly rare, but when they occur, they often have tragic results. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 23 people in Arizona died in car crashes in 2009 (the latest year with available data) when a driver entered a road against traffic or drove on the wrong side of the road.

In addition, in September 2011, two women in a sedan were killed by a man in a pickup truck travelling the wrong way on I-10 in Phoenix. Also, a wrong-way accident shut down the same freeway before Thanksgiving for several hours.

Impaired Driving and Wrong-Way Accidents

The NHTSA attributes many wrong-way accidents to impaired driving. Essentially, drunk drivers believe that they are entering the freeway (or intersection) properly, but are actually going the wrong way. The alcohol impairment prevents them from making proper corrections before entering the road or avoiding oncoming traffic altogether, thus causing an accident. Wrong-way driving errors often result in head-on collisions, especially at high speeds. Such auto accidents can result in fatalities or leave motorists crippled.

In speaking to the Claims Journal, an insurance publication, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Carrick Cook explained that law enforcement sees many serious and fatal accidents due to drunk drivers driving the wrong way on the freeway. Investigators in the crashes mentioned earlier also suspect that alcohol impairment was primary cause in each accident. The Claims Journal also found that wrong-way drivers have more traffic violations, felony convictions and other accidents than average motorists.

Other Causes and Safety Tips

While drunk driving is certainly a common culprit, wrong-way accidents also can be caused by other drivers, including older drivers who lose their directional bearings, inattentive drivers distracted by cell phones or other handheld devices, as well as drivers who experience medical events behind the wheel. The Arizona Department of Public safety recommends the following to guard against being a wrong-way driver or being involved in a wrong-way auto accident:

  • Avoid driving for long periods in the left lane on freeways, especially on curves and over hills or any rise in the road where you are not able to see ahead clearly.
  • Avoid driving while tired or under the influence of medication, drugs or alcohol.
  • Before passing, look ahead to ensure there is no oncoming traffic and enough space to move back into your lane.
  • Slow down and attempt to safely stop your vehicle by pulling to the right shoulder if you see a wrong-way driver.
  • Sound your horn to alert a wrong-way driver.
  • Put on your lights and flash the high beams to get the driver's attention.

Safety Updates in Arizona

According to the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is testing a number of new technologies and road markers to prevent future wrong-way auto accidents. These include a system that detects cars before they enter a freeway, and it will have the ability to send automatic alerts to Highway Patrol units if a car enters a freeway the wrong way. ADOT also has discussed using electronic highway signs that will alert drivers if they are using an off-ramp to enter a freeway, and ADOT has lowered many "wrong way" signs to eye level. Further, some ramps are now equipped with "cat eye" road reflectors, which are raised pavement reflectors that show red when a driver is going the wrong way.

Legal Remedies for Accident Victims

If you have suffered an injury due to someone else's negligence in driving the wrong way, Arizona law allows you to bring a lawsuit against that person, and you may be able to recover money damages. Under the law, drivers owe each other a duty to use reasonable care in operating their vehicles on the road. Generally, they must drive at safe speeds, obey traffic laws, use due care when changing lanes, and avoid distractions while behind the wheel.

A driver who drives on the wrong side of the road breaches that duty of reasonable care, and he or she may be held liable for any ensuing injuries. As such, an injured party may be entitled to compensation for property damage, lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering and future medical expenses.

Depending on the severity of the accident, people injured in auto accidents may have to adjust to an entirely new way of life. This may require wholesale modifications to one's home or vehicle to accommodate a permanent injury. If you have been injured in a wrong-way car accident, contact a skilled personal injury attorney to help you understand your legal rights and options.