Also, the developing technology would effectively prevent any one with relatively small amounts of alcohol in their blood from driving, Longwell said.
"This would eliminate people's ability to have a glass of wine with dinner or to have a beer at a ballgame and then drive home," she said.
Older drivers also appear to be part of the wrong-way driving problem, researchers said. Drivers over age 70 were overrepresented in the accidents reviewed in the study, accounting for 15 percent of the wrong-way drivers compared with only 3 percent of the right-way drivers they collided with, researchers said.
Wrong-way driving crashes on interstates, expressways and other high-speed highways are especially deadly because over 80 percent involve head-on collisions in which vehicles close in on each other very rapidly, they said. A study in Michigan earlier this year found that 22 percent of wrong-way collisions were fatal, compared with 0.3 percent for all highway accidents over the same period.
Often the chain of events begins with drivers entering an exit ramp in the wrong direction, making a U-turn on the mainline of a highway or using an emergency turnaround through a median, investigators said.
Most wrong-way crashes — including seven of the nine accidents directly investigated by NTSB — take place in the fast lane of the highway, investigators said. The accidents also tend to happen at night and on weekends, the study found.
Reducing drunken driving is perhaps the most obvious way to reduce wrong-way driving fatalities and injuries. The board hosted a forum earlier this year on the problem of drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs.
Alcohol-impaired crashes overall accounted for nearly 31 percent motor vehicle fatalities 2010. And, that percentage has remained stuck between 30 and 32 percent of overall highway fatalities since 1995, board members said.
Safety advocates have been lobbying states to pass more laws requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, states that already have such laws on the books are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Missouri's law does take effect until next fall. Also, four California counties — including Los Angeles — have ignition interlock laws.
"The laws may vary some, but the common thread is that they are for all first time offenders," Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the association, said.
National Transportation Safety Board http://www.ntsb.gov
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