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Wrong Way Driver Fatal Crashes a Rising Threat on California Freeways

Majority of Wrong-way Drivers are Intoxicated, Some are Elderly

 Wrong Way Driver Fatal Crashes on Rise in CaliforniaThe survival rate for drivers involved in a wrong-way crash is slim.

Most of these collisions end with multiple fatalities or major injuries due to the impact of two vehicles at high speed.

One of the biggest risk factors is driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. in the morning because most drunk drivers are on the roads at this time.  If you have to drive during this time of the night make sure you stay alert for vehicles. The California Highway Patrol recommends staying in the slow lanes during these hours because wrong-way drivers tend to drive in the fast lane. Experts suggest drivers follow the motto: “Stay right at night.” If a car is heading for you, the best thing to do is steer towards the right to the shoulder of the roadway.

Roughly 350 people died in the United States every year in crashes involving a wrong-way driver. That’s only 1.5 percent of the total number of traffic-related fatalities per year, but these crashes are much more severe than other collisions and 22-percent of these crashes have one or more fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This is a social issue and our society must recognize when to step in and stop a driver from getting into their car drunk in the first place,” said Attorney James Johnson. “Always plan a safe ride home if you plan to go outside your home drinking.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted a study on wrong-way drivers in 2012 in an effort to identify ways to prevent such collisions. Here is what they found out about the cause of the wrong-way collisions.

Factors contributing to wrong-way driving

The main cause of wrong-way crashes is the condition of the driver. Nearly 60 percent of wrong-way drivers were intoxicated with 5 percent of those under the influence of drugs and 3 percent actually drinking while behind the wheel, according to the NTSB. Wrong-way drivers who were not DUI were often over the age of 70 years old.  Regardless, the vast majority of all these crashes or 78 percent took place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Additionally, seven out of nine wrong-way crashes occurred on the weekend and the lane most often used by these drivers is the one closest to the median or the carpool lane or fast lane.

  • Drunk driving
  • Drugged driving
  • Suicide
  • Age-related
  • Weather or surface conditions
  • Lighting conditions on roadways
  • Entering exit ramp to freeway
  • HOV/Carpool lane confusion getting off and on the freeway

2019 California Wrong Way Crashes (Updates pending)


  • A wrong-way driver ID’d as Efrain Figueroa, 42, of Riverside, died in a solo-vehicle fiery collision at 4:30 a.m. on the 91 Freeway in Anaheim after making a U-turn and driving the wrong way on Sunday, Jan. 20.
  • Four were hospitalized after an alleged wrong-way crash along the 91 Freeway about 3 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 20. Five vehicles were involved in the crash near Gypsum Canyon in Anaheim.


  • Ashley Marie Oliver, 28, of San Jose, drove the wrong way on Highway 17 and killed a teenager in a head-on crash. She reportedly drank eight shots of whiskey and rum and was allegedly taking drugs before getting behind the wheel at 2 a.m. on May 11th.  Armando Canales, 17, of Fremont, a junior at Washington High School died and his four friends suffered major injuries including broken ribs, a bruised lung, perforated bowel, broken feet, broken vertebrae, facial cuts and a blood clot that might require brain surgery.


  • A 65-year-old Corona del Mar woman was killed around 9 a.m. after her BMW car was hit by a Mercedes traveling at 100 mph the wrong way on the 73 Freeway. The Mercedes also struck a white Lexus, but no one was hurt. Police suspected the suspect intentionally drove into traffic the wrong way. (Newport Beach).
  • Five people suffered major injuries when a wrong-way driver ID’d as Blanca Estela Duarte-Vidrio, 53, of San Juan Capistrano plowed head-on into another car on the 5 Freeway near First Street at 1:32 a.m. on Saturday. Police suspected the driver was DUI.
  • Two people were killed, five men in their 20s suffered major injuries in a wrong-way crash near Orinda early Sunday morning. A driver in a Saturn Vue was going the wrong-way on the Highway 24 and was one of two who died in the crash near Fish Ranch and Wilder roads.
  • A 44-year-old Sunnyvale man suspected of DUI after he drove the wrong way on Highway 101 in Palo Alto and crashed into a Mercedes-Benz. The suspect died when his car became engulfed in flames and the 25-year-old driver of the Mercedes suffered a broken leg and two others were also injured.


  • A 71-year-old Salinas man and a 38-year-old San Jose woman died in a wrong-way, four-vehicle crash at 11:55 p.m. on northbound U.S. Highway 101 in unincorporated Monterey County.  The elderly man was driving the wrong-way in a 2002 Honda Odyssey when he struck the woman’s car and two others collided with the vehicles after the initial crash.


  • Two men and two women riding on two motorcycles died when a suspected drunk driver Jazmin Paramo traveling the wrong way on Highway 65 crashed into them in Strathmore at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Preventing Wrong-way Crashes

Highway patrol officials in California, Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island and Texas have installed wrong-way driver warning systems as part of a pilot project targeting dangerous roadways where wrong-way crashes have occurred.

Two years ago, the Arizona Department of Transportation implemented the smart technology with a first-of-its-kind thermal camera detection system to decrease crashes. The system is made up of 90 cameras installed above exit ramps on Interstate 17. These cameras can detect drivers who enter the ramps going the wrong way. The system will light up a large, eye-level “Wrong Way” sign with flashing bright red LED lights. Once the driver is detected, the the driver will be tracked and the camera will send an image of the vehicle to law enforcement and highway officials who will be dispatched to find the driver. Next, police officials can broadcast warnings on highway message boards as well as turn freeway entrance-ramp signals to red.

Additionally, the state has installed larger and lowered “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” signs on hundreds of freeway ramps and overpasses in Phoenix and rural state highways.

The point of this is to reduce risk, but it won’t stop people from wrong-way driving. Indeed, two out of three wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers and most have blood-alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit.


James Johnson

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