Tragedy struck between 1:10 and 1:40 in the morning today, as two separate wrong-way crashes on I-290 claimed the lives of five different people. All four drivers died at the respective scenes of the collisions. One passenger in the first crash was taken to the hospital, but did not suffer any life-threatening injuries; a passenger in the second crash died at the scene.
Per the Chicago Sun Times, both crashes occurred in the eastbound lanes of I-290: the first occurred near Des Plaines Ave, and the second occurred near Wells Street. The impact of the second collision was enough to cause both vehicles to “erupt in flames.” Both crashes are still under investigation.
Wrong-way crashes are often fatal
On average, there are between 300 and 400 wrong-way crashes per year, which makes them rare though deadly collisions. But that number is starting to rise. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “there were 2,008 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, an average of approximately 500 deaths a year. That is up 34% from the 375 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014.” The Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2018, there were 1,243 reports of “Driving wrong way on one-way trafficway or wrong side of road” which led to fatalities, which accounted for about 2.4% of all traffic fatalities that year.
Why are they so dangerous? Because most wrong-way collisions are head-on collisions, and head-on collisions are often fatal collisions. Head-on collisions at speed not only risk car fires, but the impact is enough to throw someone out the front window, or snap a person’s neck. There is also a risk of suffocation from the airbags.
What leads to wrong-way crashes?
AAA has identified three primary causes for an increased risk of a wrong-way crash:
- Alcohol impairment
- Driving alone
- Advanced age
About 60% of all fatal wrong-way crashes had a driver whose BAC was .08. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which worked with AAA, reports that drunk driving has been the leading cause of wrong-way driving since at least 2012.
AAA found that about 87% of wrong-way drivers were alone in the car at the time of their crashes. That second set of eyes can be critical, especially when a person is driving at night, or driving on unfamiliar roads. Passengers can help drivers “take corrective action before a crash occurs,” AAA says.
AAA’s data showed that drivers over 70-years-old have an increased risk of a wrong-way crash. The truth is that as we age, our eyesight diminishes, as do our reflexes. Not only can an older driver miss a sign indicating a one-way road or ramp, but he or she may not be able to avoid a collision with a wrong-way driver, either.
Protecting yourself and others from wrong-way drivers
AAA and NTSB agree that “state policymakers [should] consider widely used effective infrastructure countermeasures, such as installing more-visible traffic signs and signals that follow national standards and at proper locations.” Both organizations also support the use or ignition interlock devices as well as high-visibility enforcement.
There are steps we can all take, however, that could help reduce our risks of wrong-way collisions:
- Don’t drink and drive. Driver sober, or a get a designated driver.
- Don’t drive while you’re tired. Drowsy drivers are dangerous drivers.
- Don’t drive distracted. Put your phone away so you’re not tempted to answer it while driving.
- Don’t rely solely on GPS. Be alert while driving, and look for signage regarding turns, U-turns, and ramps.
- Avoid driving at night whenever possible. Road changes are easier to see during the day.
- Be careful around construction. Road work often means detours. Make sure to follow the signs carefully, or find new routes to travel.
Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We ask you to please be careful out on the roads in Chicago. Fatal crashes are up around the country, and we want you to be safe. But if you do need us, we’ll be here. Please call Gainsberg Law at 312.600.9585 or complete our contact form to schedule your free consultation.