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John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
O: (202) 481-6820 (ext. 4462108)
C: (202) 253-2171
jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, March 23, 2021) ––Three persons were killed during a fiery head-on wrong-way crash on the Interstate 95 Express Lanes in Prince William County, Thursday, March 18, 2021. Fatal wrong-way driving crashes on our nation’s highways are a persistent and devastating threat that is only getting worse. Alarmingly, there were 2,008 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, according to the latest data analysis from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Approximately 500 deaths occur in wrong-way driving crashes a year, on average, the analysis revealed. That is up 34 percent from the 375 deaths in such crashes annually in the period from 2010 to 2014. In fact, researchers found that the odds of being a wrong-way driver increased with salient factors, such as alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger.

All told, in Maryland, there were 35 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018. Statewide, this comprises an average of approximately 9 such deaths a year. That is up 32.6% from the nearly 7 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014. Across the Potomac in Virginia, there were 45 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018. This is an average of approximately 11 such deaths per year, across the Commonwealth. That’s up 10.3% from the approximately 10 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014. 

“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.”

At least 20 persons lost their lives in wrong-way driving crashes on roadways across the Washington metro area in the period from January 2012 to March 18, 2021, according to an analysis by AAA Mid-Atlantic. On March 15, 2021, two people were killed in a three-vehicle crash involving a wrong-way driver in Spotsylvania County, reports the Virginia State Police. Two women lost their lives in a deadly wrong-way, head-on crash near Cheverly along Route 50 just east of the Kenilworth Avenue exit February 21, 2021.

“By dint of definition, a wrong-way crash involves a driver who was reportedly driving opposite the legal flow of traffic on divided highways,” noted John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Year-in and year-out, over half those killed in deadly wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways were the wrong-way drivers themselves (52.8%). A small percentage of those killed in such fatal crashes were their passengers (5.7%), while about four in ten (41.1%) were occupants of other vehicles, the analysis reveals.”

AAA works with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other traffic safety organizations to educate drivers on the deadly impact of wrong-way driving.

In light of these latest research findings, AAA and the NTSB are urging state transportation agencies to adopt driver-based countermeasures designed to reduce the number of fatal wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways.

Effective countermeasures to prevent such deadly crashes, fatalities, and injuries include measures such as alcohol ignition interlocks, and strengthened deterrence strategies like sobriety checkpoints, driver refresher courses for older adults and the installation of more-visible signs and signals.

Alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger increase risks of wrong-way crashes

Researchers examined eight factors related to these types of crashes, and three stood out – alcohol-impairment, older age, and driving without a passenger. 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.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (g/dl)                        No. of Wrong-Way Drivers (%)

BAC < 0.01

1053 (36.0%)

BAC 0.01 – 0.49

62 (2.1%)

BAC 0.05 – 0.79

52 (1.8%)

BAC ≥ 0.08

1757 (60.1%)

 * grams per deciLiter

Impairment is on the NTSB’s MOST WANTED LIST of Transportation Safety Improvements which is the agency’s premier advocacy tool. The list identifies the top safety improvements that can prevent crashes, minimize injuries, and save lives. Impairment in transportation is not limited to just alcohol; it also includes impairment by other drugs—legal or illicit.

“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,” said NTSB Director of the Office of Highway Safety, Dr. Rob Molloy.

“The important work done by AAA shows that we need to redouble our efforts to address this safety hazard. We know that interventions like ignition interlock devices for all offenders and high-visibility enforcement operations will reduce these types of devastating crashes.”

An alcohol ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting until the driver provides a breath sample that registers below a pre-set low limit, usually around a BAC of .02. It is the best countermeasure we have to separate drinking from driving.

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.

How to make a U-Turn on the Rising Wrong-Way Crashes Trend

In addition to alcohol ignition interlock devices and high-visibility enforcement, AAA and the NTSB want state policymakers to consider widely used effective infrastructure countermeasures, such as installing more-visible traffic signs and signals that follow national standards and at proper locations.  

Because older drivers are over-represented in wrong-way collisions, AAA and the NTSB also urge states to change their laws to help identify medically at-risk drivers, both physically and cognitively, to keep everyone safely driving as long as possible.

AAA and the NTSB remind drivers to use common sense before getting behind the wheel.

  • If you are driving, don't drink. If you are drinking, don’t drive.  If you consume marijuana or alcohol or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don't drive.  And if you’re going to drive, then don't consume these substances.
  • Stay alert. 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.

About AAA: AAA provides more than 61 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of 30 motor clubs and more than 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. To join, visit AAA.com

About the NTSB: The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families. 

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Washington, D.C. Mailing Address:
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 60 million members nationwide and nearly 82,000 members in the District of Columbia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit  http://aaa.com

TEDx Wilmington Salon

Who's in the Driver's Seat? The Transformation of Transportation

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, AAA and TEDx Wilmington held the first TEDx Salon dedicated to ideas worth spreading in transportation.

This event had:

  • 12 live talks given by 13 speakers
  • 368 people in attendance at the live event
  • More than 7,500 viewed the event online through Livestream, viewing events, and on the AAA Associate network
  • Online viewers came from all 50 states and approximately 30 countries around the world

View a slideshow from the event

This TEDx WilmingtonSalon was organized in partnership with AAA

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