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Systemic Approach to Wrong Way Driver Safety

Systemic Approach to Wrong Way Driving Safety   

What is a systemic approach to wrong way driving safety?

Identify methods, physical improvements, and technologies to mitigate wrong way driving that looks holistically at an agency's entire roadway system​.​ 


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Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that from 2010 to 2018 an average of 432 people were killed each year due to wrong way driving crashes on controlled-access highways. [1] This analysis shows the increased incidence from previously reported data that had indicated an annual average of 360 fatalities from 2004 to 2009. [2] ​Of further concern, the annual number of fatalities over the more recent time period generally exhibits an upward trend.

Many transportation agencies currently implement wrong way driver detection and deterrence tools and practices, but the variety of potential tools and practices vary, are often expensive, and are, in some cases, adopted as “spot treatments," typically at the corridor scale. Recent research has found that risk factors for wrong way driving do not limit themselves to high-volume corridors. For example, the risk of being a wrong way driver increases with blood alcohol content and vehicle age, and for drivers with suspended or revoked licenses and those ages 70 and over. Further, wrong way driving is not limited to divided highways or freeways and can also be addressed along arterials where wrong way driving crashes occur more frequently, though with a lower risk of fatality.

The AASHTO Innovation Initiative revisits wrong way driving—first examined under Wrong Way Driver Detection Systems—by applying a systemic approach to detection and deterrence that looks holistically at an agency's entire roadway system. A Systemic Approach to Wrong Way Driving Safety will identify methods, physical improvements, and technologies to mitigate wrong way driving as an agency objective that integrates into existing approaches and programs for safety. Recent agency experience has shown a range of proven and emerging countermeasures are effective, depending on roadway characteristics such as interchange type, as well as demographic and land use factors. Many of these treatments are low-cost countermeasures, and readily implemented without substantial investment in technology, although individual agencies would need to evaluate the cost components.

A systemic approach to wrong way driving improves safety. Benefits include a reduction in wrong way driving events and a lower risk that a wrong way driving event will result in a crash.

Depending on the countermeasure deployed, safety benefits may include:

  1. A reduction in wrong way events at the outset because of improved signage, pavement markings, and physical improvements to interchange elements such as median configurations.
  2. Detection and notification as early as possible, especially through dynamic or ITS treatments, including warnings and alerts to encourage the wrong way driver to self-correct.
  3. Prevention of a serious crash for wrong way drivers that do not self-correct and continue from an exit ramp onto the mainline through continuous monitoring, communication to law enforcement, and alerts to right way drivers. (In some instances, mainline turnarounds are also known to occur.)


[1] Villavicencio, L.I., Añorve, V., & Arnold, L.S. (2021). Fatal Wrong-Way Crashes on Divided Highways. (Research Brief.) Washington, D.C.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

[2] National Transportation Safety Board. (2012) Highway Special Investigation Report: Wrong-Way Driving. Publication NTSB/SIR-12/01​



Raj Ponnaluri, PhD, PE, PTOE, PMP (Chair)
Emerging Technologies Program
Florida Department of Transportation​

Mark Bott, PE
Division of Traffic and Safety
Michigan Department of Transportation

John Slonaker
Division of Research, Innovation and System Information
California Department of Transportation

Willy Sorenson, PE
Traffic & Safety Bureau
Iowa Department of Transportation