On Sunday morning, July 20, 2014, on the eastbound 210 Freeway, only about a mile from my home, just west of Day Creek Blvd., a suspected intoxicated wrong-way driver, drove his 2011 Hyundai westbound into the front end of an eastbound 2013 Hyundai. The massive collision resulted in the death of three people and serious injuries of two others. Mack A. Jaramillo, of La Habra, was the driver of the wrong-way vehicle. Mr. Jaramillo was also one of the individuals who died in the accident. The 2013 Hyundai was occupied with members of the Shah family returning from a family reunion. Two of the four Shah occupants lost their lives.
Wrong-way driver accidents on our freeways are not wholly uncommon events. In most instances, wrong-way drivers are intoxicated, elderly or wholly unfamiliar with the area of the accident. In other instances, entry onto the freeway may be the result of a confusingly designed freeway exit/entrance such that they create confusion for the motoring public or the unwary.
The National Traffic Safety Board in 2012 prepared a detailed report regarding wrong-way driving. That report, entitled Highway Special Investigation Report, Wrong-Way Driving studied wrong-way accidents from 2004 through 2009. The statistics showed there were approximately 1,566 fatal wrong-way accidents over a six-year span across the nation. These accidents resulted in 2,139 fatalities. According to this study, 936 of the wrong-way drivers (60 percent) were alcohol-impaired. 233 of the wrong-way drivers were over 70 years old. Drivers ages 20 to 49, caused 1022 of the wrong-way accidents. Another significant number of accidents, involved impairment by way of drugs. Interestingly, the percentage of accidents involving drugs increased in percentage over the six-year period of the study. Finally and unsurprisingly, nighttime and early morning driving accounted for 78 percent of all wrong-way accidents.
With so many wrong-way accidents, the question is whether there exists a way to prevent such accidents? Obviously, the most important starting point is to look at on ramp/off ramp design, labeling and warnings. That puts the burden on highway designers to find ways to anticipate the actions of impaired drivers and find ways to minimize these accidents. However, even now, many entrance points are properly designed and labeled, but these efforts do not deter impaired drivers. Increased drug and alcohol use, as well as the increasing age of our society, means that these accidents will most likely continue, and quite possibly increase in frequency. Thus, a second level of prevention is keeping those who are impaired from getting behind the wheel of a car.