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The pandemic has done little to fix the traffic violence that pervades in U.S. roadways. And now, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has reportedly identified yet another area of concern: a sharp increase in deaths as a result of motorists driving on the wrong way of the street.
The study reportedly found that deaths involving wrong-way drivers increased from an average of 360 a year from 2004 to 2009 to 430 a year from 2010 to 2019, including an average of 500 from 2015 to 2018. Researchers found that driving under the influence, older age, and traveling alone increased the odds of driving the wrong way and being involved in a fatal accident.
“Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are largely fatal as they are typically head-on collisions,” Theresa Podguski, director of legislative affairs for AAA East Central, reportedly said in a news release. “It is our intention to raise awareness of the alarming rise in wrong-way crashes and what people need to do to help reverse this alarming trend.”
Though the study was conducted in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky it reflects a nationwide problem. The study found that 60.1% of drivers going the wrong way in fatal crashes had blood-alcohol levels higher than 0.08% — driving with this BAC is illegal in California. A total of 36% had less than 0.01% of alcohol in their systems, and the rest were in between.
“Alcohol impairment is, by far, the single most significant factor in the majority of wrong-way driving crashes, which unfortunately has not changed since the NTSB issued its Wrong-Way Driving special investigation report in 2012,” Rob Molloy, NTSB’s director of the Office of Highway Safety, reportedly said in a news release.
Other findings include: drivers older than 70 also were more likely to drive the wrong way, despite driving fewer miles as they aged, and having a passenger in the vehicle helped to avoid going the wrong way.
A study by the California Department of Transportation and The University of California-Davis showed that red reflective markers on ramps reduced wrong-way driving by 44%. Flashing LED lights resulted in 60% fewer accidents.
In light of these latest research findings, AAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are urging state transportation agencies to adopt driver-based countermeasures that address these factors, such as alcohol ignition interlocks, strengthened deterrence strategies like sobriety checkpoints, driver refresher courses for older adults and the installation of more-visible signs and signals.
Despite the pandemic and the decrease in traffic across the country, there was a 45% increase in pedestrian fatalities over a 10-year period in the U.S.