Wrong-way driving seems like a rare occurrence, but it kills roughly 350 people a year in the United States alone. What causes wrong-way interstate driving, and how can it be prevented? Washington state has researched a number of solutions.

Beware of Wrong Way Interstate Driving in Washington State

This month, we reported on a wrong-way driving case that caused a horrific fatality. An elderly couple sped down the wrong side of I-5 near Olympia, crashing into two cars before coming to a stop. One car exploded into flames, killing the driver before paramedics could arrive.

Although this sounds like a freak accident, driving the wrong way down major highways is more common than you might think. The US Department of Transportation reports that around 350 people a year die in such instances, with DWIs and DUIs often factoring into driver mistakes. In the four-county area around Seattle, including King County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, and Whatcom County, there were 136 wrong-way cashes between 1997 and 2000. Even more frightening is that most mistaken wrong-way drivers quickly correct their direction - thousands of drivers probably enter the wrong side of the interstate each year.

In another case near Seattle, Two friends, Tracey Fisher and Erin Klotz, both 20, were driving down I-90 when an SUV appeared out of nowhere heading directly toward them. The head on crash resulted in the death of Klotz and serious injuries for Fisher. The driver of the SUV, Debra Acey, had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. According to the Seattle Times, she was convicted of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.

Luckily, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is working toward solving the wrong-way crisis. They are both studying what causes drivers to accidentally enter one-way ramps onto highways and also testing new technology to prevent it in the future. Among the new technologies being tested are digital video cameras that record incidents as they occur.

From the data collected, the South Central region of Washington has already began to update their cloverleaf interchanges to make them easier to understand.

"I think this study will lead to major innovations in the way we deal with the wrong-way problem," says Jim Mahugh, assistant traffic engineer for WSDOT's South Central Region and manager of the I-82/Hwy. 22 project. "Our best bet for preventing wrong-way incidents is to build into any system a combination of video surveillance and detection."

The best way for drivers to prevent wrong-way accidents is simple: pay attention, keep your eyes on the road, watch for wrong way signage, and don't drive impaired.