How to avoid and survive an encounter with a wrong-way driver

4 simple steps all drivers should keep in mind, especially when driving at night

SAN ANTONIO – It's a driver's worst nightmare: Suddenly seeing another vehicle coming at you head-on on the highway.

Head-on collisions are the most deadly type of traffic crash. While new technologies employed by state and local law enforcement can detect wrong-way drivers, head-on crashes continue to happen.

Frank Jakobs said he narrowly missed being hit by a wrong-way driver on Highway 281 in late January.

"Suddenly two headlights were really coming right at me in my lane. All I did was literally just grab my wheel and swerve into the center lane," Jakobs said. "There's not time to think. It was fortunate I wasn't distracted. It was just a reaction."

Jakobs might not have realized it, but his reaction to swerve out of the way was exactly what police say drivers should do when faced with a oncoming car.

Authorities have four simple tips for drivers that they believe will increase a driver's chances of avoiding and surviving a head-on crash.

Tip 1: Stay right at night

"Staying to the right is the best solution because the driver that's driving the wrong way (is) usually on the far lefthand lane," said SAPD Traffic officer George Olivarri. "Staying to the right will avoid those drivers."

Tip 2: Always keep your eyes focused on the horizon

"You want to keep an eye out for road conditions and any potential threats or hazards caused by other drivers," Olivarri said.

Tip 3: Reduce your speed

If another vehicle is coming at you, reduce your speed.

"You want to slow down to give them a better reaction time," Olivarri said. "Maybe they'll realize they're driving the wrong way or they'll try to avoid you as well."

Tip 4: Steer right, even if another car is next to you in another lane

"You want to steer to the right and try to maintain a glancing blow instead of a head-on blow," Olivarri said. "Usually on the right there is a shoulder; if not a shoulder, then a center median and you may have the opportunity to take evasive action and drive into the center median."

According to the Federal Highway Administration an average of 300 to 400 people are killed in wrong-way crashes every year.

Your greatest risk for encountering a wrong-way driver is between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. with crashes peaking between 2 and 3 in the morning, especially on the weekends.

About the Author:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.