18:00 PM

Wisconsin Heading the Wrong Way with "Wrong-Way" Crashes

State has the 3rd highest increase in nation

MADISON, Wisc. (March 23, 2021) 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 crashes on divided highways in the state from 2015 to 2018 was 230 percent higher than the previous 5 years. That is over 6 times larger than 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. Nationally, 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* 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 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 (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 Group. "As soon as you are safely 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 alcohol or marijuana, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, don't drive. And if you're going to drive, 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.

Methodology: AAA Foundation researchers examined the number of fatal wrong-way crashes and the number of people killed using data from NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Characteristics of wrong-way drivers were compared with "right-way" drivers in the same crash to identify factors associated with increased odds of being a wrong-way driver in these types of crashes.

About the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a nonprofit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by researching their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research develops educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users.