Can We Just Assume That Every Wrong-Way Driver is Drunk?

Michael GrossmanJanuary 04, 2018 3 minutes

Wrong-way drivers are freaking scary. How does a driver even find himself on the wrong side of the road, let alone stay there long enough to crash? I have a theory about it, actually: Pretty much every wrong-way driver is a drunk driver.

I hate to speculate and then be wrong, but when I read the news and it's talking about a driver who blasted up the southbound lanes of Interstate 75, heading north at 100 miles per hour at 2:45 in the morning, I know my first thought isn't "Oh, he must have been lost." Because that behavior is reckless beyond measure and doesn't make sense to any rational person, I tend to believe that the driver was blitzed. Pickled. Soused. My theory is usually proven right when the investigation details are released and it turns out ol' Wrong Way McGee was drunk enough to get the breathalyzer tipsy. It's a scenario that's replayed over and over and over, all across the country, every day. The news is never short of people headed the wrong way on a major road, and a lot of innocent folks are hurt because of their actions.

A recent incident near Corsicana got me thinking about all this. Here's what happened.

Corsicana, TX: December 27, 2017

Texas DPS officials released a statement about a fatal wrong-way crash that took place on Interstate 45 late Wednesday night.

According to the report, the crash happened around 11:50 p.m. about a mile south of FM 1603, just north of Corsicana. A Chevrolet Express van, headed south, entered the interstate's northbound lanes. After doing so, the van hit a northbound Hyundai Elantra.

The driver of the Elantra, Robert White (29), was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. His passenger, Amber Little (28), was taken by emergency personnel to Dallas' Baylor Hospital with serious injuries.

The driver of the van, 38-year-old Dallas man Mario Banda, was also seriously injured by the crash. He was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for treatment.

Police aren't certain yet what caused Mr. Banda to cross into the northbound lanes of the interstate. The investigation continues.

An Educated Guess About What Happened

This is just speculation, and I hope the investigation will prove me wrong, but we at the firm have seen this fact pattern many times before and I have a strong hunch about what happened.

The lateness of the hour isn't a dead giveaway on its own. Many people have business to attend to long after sundown, and people can crash at night from limited visibility, road conditions, or any number of things that aren't alcohol related. It's telling that the wreck occurred during the window of time when intoxication collisions are most likely, but it's not damning by itself.

Then we add this detail: The crash didn't happen on some small two-lane rural road. Interstate 45 is a heavily-trafficked multi-lane highway with concrete dividers in the median. Mr. Banda didn't momentarily drift across a double yellow line in this instance; he would have to have entered the highway's northbound lanes, presumably through an exit ramp, and not noticed anything was amiss. Then he would have had to keep moseying onward even as oncoming cars' headlights were pointed as his vehicle, ignoring clear signs of danger and traveling fast enough to destroy another vehicle on impact.

That's not the kind of thing someone in his right mind does, which means he was likely a) mentally unstable to the point of complete distraction or b) intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol. Statistically, the latter is much more likely than the former.

Am I Crazy Here?

I'm relying on probabilities and professional acquaintance with wrong-way driving accidents to come to this conclusion. Even with so much anecdotal evidence, though, am I being unfair? Maybe. I will say again that nothing has been confirmed about Mr. Banda being intoxicated, so maybe it's too presumptuous to say wrong-way drivers are all motivated by intoxicants. I just know that the facts all too often add up to that conclusion: Accidents occur late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, often on a heavily-trafficked road. Post-crash investigations often turn up that the wrong-way driver didn't even brake before impact, and field or lab tests often find intoxicants in the driver's system. It happens so often that many states, Texas included, have dram shop laws to punish bars who over-serve their patrons until they can't discern which lanes to use on the road.

I know it's a little hyperbolic of me to say that every wrong-way driver is intoxicated. Of course other factors can put someone on the wrong side of the road; it happened to me once in an unfamiliar area late at night, and I was as sober as a teetotaling judge. However, I believe that the vast majority of these wrong-way cases are motivated by drugs or alcohol--someone relying on fate to get him home after having too much--and innocent motorists pay painful, often fatal, prices.

All I'm really saying is if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, and it flies head-on into other ducks, it's probably time to administer a field sobriety test.