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Nolan Erickson
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Wrong-Way Crashes: Terrifying and Deadly

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Imagine driving down the road, minding your own business, when suddenly you see a pair of headlights heading straight for you. This is what happens in a “wrong-way” car crash – for some reason, a careless or reckless driver enters traffic against the ordinary flow, causing havoc and, all too often, serious injury or death.

How do wrong-way crashes happen? Perhaps the most common cause is unfamiliarity combined with inattentive or distracted driving. Piloting a two-ton metal vehicle through a populated area deserves one’s undivided attention, especially in an unfamiliar location. However, many drivers seem to be more concerned with checking their email or updating Facebook than watching for traffic signs. In some cases, blind adherence to outdated or inaccurate GPS directions may be a factor.

Wrong-way crashes can also result from recklessness, intoxication, or even intentional conduct. Last week, a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated after allegedly driving east in the westbound lane of I-94 near Charleston Township in Michigan, causing an accident and fleeing the scene. Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Lansing man allegedly led police on a terrifying high-speed chase the wrong way on I-96 near Brighton, causing a collision that sent three people to the hospital. Wrong-way driving even played a role during last month’s heart-breaking mass murder in my hometown of Grand Rapids.

When a vehicle enters a roadway traveling in the wrong direction, serious injury is a distinct possibility. Other drivers generally do not expect to see a car heading straight for them, and may be too stunned to react quickly. When you consider the fact that the driver has less time to make a decision (because the wrong-way car is likely traveling at or near the speed limit towards the unsuspecting motorist) and the combined force of a head-on collision, wrong-way crashes frequently have tragic results.