SAN DEGO – Officials with the California Department of Transportation are working to put an end to wrong-way drivers with a new program aimed at cutting down on the number of deadly incidents.

Despite best efforts at education, awareness, and engineering mitigation on our roadways, wrong-way crashes continue to increase in San Diego County, and more than half involve a driver who was under the influence.

“60% of the time a wrong-way crash involves driving under the influence in one form or another,” said Kim Christianson who works with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “Whether that’s alcohol or illicit drug use– so they go hand-in-hand.”

According to Caltrans officials, each year in California an average of 37 people are killed in wrong-way crashes. Across the U.S., there were approximately 500 deaths per year between 2015 and 2018.

“This campaign addresses impaired driving as the common cause of wrong-way collisions, and we hope to significantly reduce crashes involving wrong-way drivers and other impaired drivers by enhancing public awareness,” said Caltrans District 11 Director Gustavo Dallarda.

In 2019, there were nearly 250 wrong-way crashes on California highways. Most incidents involving wrong-way drivers happen on the weekend between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., and most involve younger drivers, officials say.

Caltrans just completed a $9 million project aimed at prevention which included countermeasures for wrong-way driving at more than 70 locations across San Diego County.

“We’ve installed these red reflectors that are visible to wrong-way drivers, bigger wrong-way driver, wrong-way signs, some of them have LED borders highlighting you’re going the wrong way,” says Dallarda.

During a pilot version of the program, Caltrans says that San Diego roads saw a 44% decrease in wrong-way crashes. In Sacramento, a similar program brought down incidents by 60%, officials say.

“There’s such a ripple effect that comes from drunk crashes,” says Christianson. “We refer to them as ‘crashes’ because an accident implies that it just happened and it couldn’t be avoided and drunk driving is a 100% preventable crime.” 

California Highway Patrol and Caltrans officials recommend avoiding anyone on the road who you suspect may be driving impaired and reaching out to police immediately.