Here's what CHP says is behind most deadly wrong-way driver crashes in the state

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Here's what CHP says is behind most deadly wrong-way driver crashes
Here's what California Highway Patrol says is behind most deadly wrong-way driver crashes in the state.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Wrong-way drivers kill an average of 500 people a year across the country, and just this past weekend there were three wrong-way driver crashes in the Bay Area that killed four people. Although relatively rare, wrong-way crashes have been on the rise in California over the past decade.

According to CHP, there were 208 wrong-way driver crashes in 2019, 220 in 2020, and 296 in 2021. The numbers may have declined in 2022 but data is only available through September.

"Statistically, wrong-way driver crashes are extremely low. They account for less than one half of 1% of crashes in the state of California," Officer Andrew Barclay of CHP's Golden Gate Division told ABC7 News. "However, with that being said, very often they are some of the most violent crashes that we see due to the fact that it's two vehicles colliding from an opposite direction, very often head on."

ABC7 News anchor Liz Kreutz passed one of the wrong-way drivers on Highway 101 in San Rafael while driving to work over the weekend. Moments later, while she was calling to report the driver to 9-1-1, that driver crashed head-on into a BMW that was less than a mile behind her. The wrong-way driver was killed. The man who was hit survived, but with major injuries.

RELATED: 4 killed in several Bay Area wrong-way car crashes this weekend, CHP says

Kreutz was driving in the middle lane on the southbound side of Highway 101 when she saw the wrong-way driver coming northbound in the southbound HOV lane.

KREUTZ: "I was in the middle lane and the wrong-way driver was in the fast lane. I had enough time that I was able to get over to the slow lane and I kept driving. What advice would you give for someone in that situation? What should they do?"

OFFICER BARCLAY: "I think at this point, based on what you just told me, you are probably one of the best people to offer that advice because you did everything correctly. Move over as far to the side as you can and keep going."

Officer Barclay said the number one most important thing drivers can do to prevent crashing into a wrong-way driver is limit their distractions.

RELATED: 1 killed following wrong-way crash in Marin, authorities say

"Making sure that you're paying attention, making sure you're looking down the road at what's coming. That's number one for staying safe," Barclay said. "Number two is exactly what you also talked about earlier: be a good witness. Pick up the phone and call 911 and provide us with that information."

The crash in Marin County was one of four wrong-way driver crashes over the weekend. CHP said alcohol is believed to be a factor in three of them, including the one in Marin.

"Very often impairment plays a part in these incidents, whether it's alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both," Barclay said.

He said wrong-way drivers who are under the influence often drive in the fast lane thinking they're in the slow lane on the opposite side.

RELATED: 1 woman dead, 2 hurt in wrong-way crash on I-280 in Woodside; driver arrested, CHP says

"Most of the time, when someone gets on the freeway and they are impaired, they want to draw as little attention to themselves as possible and in their mind the best way to do that is to be in the slow lane going the speed limit," Barclay said. "When you're traveling the wrong way, in your mind you're in the slow lane, but the reality is you're in the fast lane for oncoming traffic. So, that is why very often we will see these crashes taking place in the fast lane."

CalTrans said it is working on counter measures to help lower the numbers of wrong-way drivers in California.

In addition to "Do Not Enter" signs on all freeway off-ramps, it is adding reflective markers onto highways that reflect red if you're going in the wrong direction. CalTrans said a pilot program it did in the Sacramento area with those highway reflectors resulted in a 60% drop in the number of wrong-way drivers in 2018.

"When we look at these incidents, we include CalTrans very often in the analysis of these, so we can work with them to maybe try to come up with ideas to prevent this from happening in the first place," Barclay said.

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