In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 1,772 car accident fatalities were caused by wrong way drivers - drivers traveling on the wrong side of the road. This week, our Kansas City personal injury attorneys were saddened to hear that a man was killed near Louisburg, KS after colliding with a wrong way driver on U.S. Highway 69.
It happened Thursday morning around 5:30 a.m. - and by that time, drivers were already calling 911 to report a minivan swerving, driving erratically, and, eventually, traveling north in the highway's southbound lanes. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, 45 year-old Marilyn Nickell veered across the grass median and traveled approximately 1.5 miles in the southbound lanes before she slammed into a vehicle driven by 57 year-old Scott Klein of San Clemente, California.
Klein was pronounced dead at the scene. In a tragic twist, KCTV 5 reports that Klein's brother died several years ago in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
It is not yet known if Nickell was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, or if a medical condition may have been a factor. Nickell sustained serious injuries in the crash, though police report she was "alert and talking" when emergency responders finally extricated her from the minivan - she was trapped inside for nearly an hour. She was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where she remains in stable condition. No charges have yet been filed, but the accident remains under investigation by the Miami County Sheriff's Department and the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Crashes caused by wrong way drivers commonly result in critical injuries and fatalities: more often than not, these crashes are head-on collisions, which result in more motorist fatalities than any other kind of car accident. In a head-on collision, the front ends of the vehicles slam into each other, and the combined force from both moving vehicles makes the impact immense.
Sometimes, these accidents are caused by drivers who are simply confused: they lose their bearings, and find themselves going the wrong direction on a divided highway or a one-way street. Sometimes, bad road conditions (due to weather or maintenance) play a role. However, alcohol and/or drugs are a factor in a large number of these crashes. Other possible causes include dangerous passing, lane departure due to driver distraction, and failing to negotiate a curve in the roadway, but these scenarios are more common on 2 lane roads than on divided highways.
Safety advocates advise that you take whatever actions are possible to avoid a head-on collision, even if it means driving into the ditch. Here are a few tips to help you in the event an oncoming vehicle strays into your lane:
• Slow down immediately. Be prepared to stop, or to pull onto the shoulder when needed.
• When you have to make a split-second decision, go right: the other driver is mostly likely to go to your left when he or she attempts to regain control. Also, steering right will decrease the force of the collision if impact is inevitable. If you can keep at least 2 wheels on the pavement, that's the best case scenario. However, taking all 4 wheels onto the shoulder is preferable to a head-on collision.
• According to theZenith.com, "if the choice is between a head-on and hitting a fixed object such as a tree or utility pole, it's always safer to hit the fixed object, which has no momentum of its own."
• Be sure to wear your seatbelt. It's always a good practice, but in a head-on collision, it can mean the difference between life and death.