Fatal wrong-way driving crashes are a persistent and devastating threat that has grown significantly worse in Wisconsin.

According to a recent data analysis from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the average number of deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways in the state from 2015-18 was 230% higher than the previous five years. That is over six times larger than the nationwide increase of 32%. 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. Nationally, six in 10 wrong-way crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Those with blood alcohol concentrations over the legal limit of 0.08 were significantly more likely to be wrong-way drivers than non-alcohol-impaired drivers involved in the same crashes.

The data also shows that drivers over the age of 70 are more at risk of wrong-way driving than their younger counterparts. Previous Foundation research from the AAA Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) 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 see a wrong-way driver, cautiously move to the right shoulder but avoid swerving or slamming on the brakes” said Nick Jarmusz, director of public affairs for AAA — The Auto Club. “As soon as you are safely out of harm’s way, call 911 to report the situation.”

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