Heading in the Wrong Direction: Frightening Trends in Wrong Way Driving

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By Marcus Fernandez

Just last week, we witnessed another video of a wrong way driver. This time, a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Officer came face-to-face with an intoxicated 21-year old as he barrelled down the wrong way of the interstate. Images, and even videos, of wrong way driving accidents in our community have become ingrained in our mind. While considered rare nationwide, wrong way driving incidents have become an almost seemingly daily mention in our local newscasts. In fact, Florida ranks in the top three states nationwide for fatal crashes resulting from wrong way driving according to research from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Joined by California and Texas, these three states account for nearly one-third of our nation’s total. While the Florida Highway Patrol averages nearly 40 arrests per year for wrong way driving, it’s evident that they cannot capture every driver before incident.

Wrong Way Driving Trends

So, is it as bad as it seems? Let’s take a look at some important statistics that have been shared in recent years: 

  • A study conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that an average of 350 people die every year because of a wrong way driving accident in the U.S. 
  • According to the Statewide Wrong Way Crash Study conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation:
    • 280 wrong way related crashes occurred on Florida’s freeways and expressways between 2009 – 2013. 
    • 51 percent of these crashes resulted in injury (400 injuries) and 18 percent resulted in death (75 fatalities).


Both nationally and within the state of Florida, wrong way crashes often have several issues in common.

Intoxicated Driving

Approximately 60 percent of wrong way crashes on a nationwide basis involve alcohol or drug use. In Florida, between 2009-2013, approximately 45 percent of wrong way accidents involved drugs or alcohol. While lower than the national average, it represents 16 times the alcohol or drug involvement proportion for other freeway/expressway accidents in our state. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Times recently noted that within our local four-county radius (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties), alcohol or drugs was listed as a factor in approximately two-thirds of wrong way cases within a four-year timespan.

Weekends and Dark Conditions

71 percent of wrong way collisions in the state of Florida between 2009-2013 took place in dark conditions. The same holds true nationally. According to the NTSB, 78 percent of accidents occurred between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., and 57 percent happened on the weekends.


Contrary to popular belief, older drivers do not account for the majority of wrong way accidents. In Florida, approximately 42 percent of wrong way crashes were caused by drivers who were under the age of 30. Just over 35 percent of collisions nationwide resulted from drivers under the age of 30. These numbers, however, are in direct proportion to the number of accidents typically exhibited by right way drivers. While there are fewer wrong way accidents caused by older Americans (ages 70+), this group was shown to be more susceptible to a wrong-way related crash.


Although not the only issues that cause wrong way driving, these contributing factors tell us that a major countermeasure for wrong way driving should be concentrated in education initiatives and continued effort to prevent impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel. The Florida Highway Patrol and partners like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have stepped up education programs highlighting the dangers of driving while intoxicated, tired or sleepless, as well as defensive driving programs that highlight what to do if faced with a wrong way driver. It’s one of several tactics being used to combat wrong way driving by the state. 

Recently, the Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary, Paul Steinman, said that wrong way drivers will be a “primary” focus for FDOT in 2016. Stay tuned for the next post in this series which will focus on measures the state of Florida has recently put in place, as well as what other communities are doing to combat wrong way driving.

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