12 Things We Know From ADOT's Report on Wrong-Way Driving

Tom Grundy/

The Arizona Department Transportation has put together a report on developing a prototype to detect and prevent wrong-way drivers. The report bases its findings on a detailed look at the patterns from 269 wrong-way crashes, 68 of which were fatal, on state highways between 2004 and 2014. The report offers insights into why and how these crashes occur.

Some may be obvious. But here are 12 takeaways from the report on wrong-way crashes.

1. They tend to be much more destructive. A quarter of all wrong-way crashes are fatal. That number is 1 percent for other crashes on divided highways.

2. Despite the attention they get, they are very rare. One in 10,000 crashes involves a wrong-way driver.

3. The drivers tend to be impaired. Often, really impaired. Two-thirds of the drivers that were caught were addled by booze or drugs. More than 40 percent of those that were impaired had more than double the legal limit of alcohol in their system. The chances a wrong-way driver is impaired are 13 times that of drivers in regular crashes.

4. It follows, then, you’re more likely to encounter one of these at 2 a.m. than any other time of day. ADOT recorded more than 35 crashes in the hour after closing time. The next closest was around 20, in the two hours just prior.

Similarly, crashes peak on Saturday night into Sunday morning.

6. They peak in July, and summer generally. There are three times as many wrong-way crashes in July as February.

7. It’s millennials. Drivers between the ages of 26 and 35 make up the largest portion of wrong-way drivers. They also make the largest contributor to other types of crashes.

8. It’s not just millennials. Generally, the number of crashes and wrong-way crashes tend to taper off after age 35, but then for the oldsters, it spikes up again for wrong-way collisions. Researchers said 15 wrong-way drivers got confused. Their average age was 72.

9. It’s men. Of course, it’s the men. Two-thirds of the drivers in wrong-way crashes were men. The disparity is even more pronounced for men younger than 35. Let the battle of the sexes resume over who makes worse drivers.

10. It’s us. Three-quarters of those responsible have Arizona drivers’ licenses. Snowbirds? Nope. One Canadian was involved. Bad hombres? Nope. Mexicans were involved in four. Those lousy Californians? Wrong again. Five this time. It’s us, people. It's us.

11. Most crashes happen on older highways. The most common site is I-17, where two GCU students and a wrong-way driver were killed on Good Friday. After that, routes 153 and 51, as well as I-10, lead the way, as measured by wrong-way crashes per mile.

12. Nationally, the number and rate of fatal crashes has steadily been falling for decades, while the number of fatal wrong-way crashes has been creeping up.

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Sean Holstege is the editor of Phoenix New Times. He's been a print news reporter for 35 years. He was an investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic and the Oakland Tribune. He won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting. He’s covered transportation, terrorism, the border, disasters, child welfare, courts, and breaking news.
Contact: Sean Holstege