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Arizona Wrong Way Drivers – Causes, Possible Charges & Defenses

In Arizona, one of the most dangerous types of accidents that may occur is a wrong-way crash. People who are involved in head-on collisions with drivers who are driving the wrong way are much likelier to suffer catastrophic injuries or to die. Drivers who drive the wrong-way may do so for a number of different reasons. If they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their accidents, they may face a variety of different types of criminal charges that carry severe penalties.

People who are facing criminal charges for driving the wrong way and causing a collision should seek help from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in Phoenix at DM Cantor. Our legal team includes four lawyers who are board certified criminal defense specialists, and we have secured more than 4,700 victories for our clients, including victories in more than 2,900 DUI and vehicular crimes cases.

Wrong-Way Car accidents vs Other Types of Collisions

Wrong-way driving occurs when a driver drives his or her vehicle in the wrong direction on a highway, freeway, or road. According to the Federal Highway Administration, an average of 300 to 400 people are killed in the U.S. each year because of collisions with wrong way drivers. While this number represents just about 1% of the total number of traffic fatalities that happen each year, wrong-way collisions tend to be much more serious than other types of accidents. This is because these accidents often occur on highways and freeways where the speed limits are higher.

According to a study that was completed by the Arizona Department of Transportation reporting from 269 wrong-way crashes during a 10-year span from 2004 to 2014, 25% of wrong way crashes involve fatalities. Among other types of collisions on highways, only 1% involve fatalities. A large majority of wrong-way accidents occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and 65% of the crashes are caused by drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. AZDOT also found that 57% of these crashes happen on the weekends.

Because of the problem of wrong-way driving in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2423 into law in March 2018. This law amended multiple statutes and made wrong way driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs a felony offense. It is crucial for people who are charged with a wrong-way driving offense to seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon after they have been charged as possible. An attorney at DM Cantor may identify all of the possible defenses to the charge and work to build the strongest defensive strategy for his or her client.

How do Wrong Way Accidents Commonly Happen?

Wrong-way driving may be caused by many different factors, including the following:

  • Driving while under the influence of alcohol
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs
  • Distracted driving
  • Drowsy driving
  • Unfamiliarity with the roads in the area
  • Poorly marked ramps or poor ramp design
  • Mental health problems
  • Poor visibility
  • Visual and cognitive declines from aging

According to studies, the majority of wrong-way driving accidents are caused by driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and most of these collisions happen at night. The AZDOT study found that wrong way driving rates tapered off when people reach age 35, but they spike again when people are older. In its study, AZDOT found that 15 of the drivers in the 269 wrong-way crashes in Arizona were confused, and their average age was 72 years old.

What are the Possible Charges for Wrong Way Driving without an Accident?

Wrong-way driving can result in a couple of potential consequences even when an accident does not happen. The charge that might result will depend on whether alcohol and drugs were involved.

Civil Wrong Way Driving Offense

If a wrong way driver is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he or she drives the wrong way on a controlled-access highway and does not cause a crash, he or she may face a civil penalty under A.R.S. § 28-694. Under this statute, people who are found guilty of the civil offense will be required to attend a traffic survival school and to pay a fine of $500.

Felony Aggravated DUI

When a driver is charged with driving the wrong way while he or she is impaired by drugs or alcohol, the potential penalties are much more serious. HB 2423 amended A.R.S. § 28-1383 to include wrong-way driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as a felony aggravated DUI offense. Wrong-way driving while under the influence is a class 4 felony in Arizona, and it carries a mandatory sentence to prison. People who are convicted of the offense may face up to 3.75 years in prison and will be ineligible for probation, commutation, suspension of the sentence, or parole until they have served a minimum of four months in prison.


When people drive the wrong way while they are intoxicated, a prosecutor could decide to charge them with endangerment under A.R.S. § 13-1201, which is when a person engages in reckless behavior that endangers someone else with a substantial risk of death or injury. However, vehicular endangerment is a class 6 felony, which means that it does not carry penalties that are as severe as those for an aggravated DUI. The potential prison time for endangerment ranges from one-third of a year up to two years. However, it is possible for a person convicted of vehicular endangerment to be sentenced to jail instead of prison. Since an aggravated DUI carries harsher penalties, most prosecutors will opt to charge a wrong-way driver with the class 4 felony instead of with endangerment.

What are the Possible Charges for Wrong Way Driving when an Accident is Involved?

When an accident is caused by a wrong-way driver, the driver may face several different charges, depending on the reason that he or she was driving in the wrong direction as well as on the severity of any injuries that may have been caused.

Vehicular Aggravated Assault

People who have caused injuries in a wrong-way accident may be charged with vehicular aggravated assault under A.R.S. § 13-1204. Aggravated assaults involve the use of a deadly weapon to cause serious injuries to another person, and a car can be considered to be a deadly weapon. If a jury finds that the wrong way driver’s vehicle was a deadly weapon and serious injuries were caused, the driver can be convicted of a class 3 dangerous felony. For a first offense, a class 3 dangerous felony is punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison.

  • If the victim is either younger than age 15 or is a police officer, aggravated vehicular assault is a class 2 felony that carries the potential of 7 to 21 years in prison.
  • If the victim did not suffer a serious injury and no alcohol or drugs were consumed, it is a class 4 felony. It can carry zero to 365 days in jail, or prison of one to 3.75 years.

Vehicular Manslaughter

If a wrong-way driver causes an accident in which someone dies, he or she may be charged with vehicular manslaughter under A.R.S. § 13-1103. Vehicular manslaughter may be charged when a person causes a fatal accident while he or she was engaged in reckless driving behavior or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a jury determines that the vehicle didn’t qualify as a deadly weapon, then it is a class 2 non-dangerous felony that carries a potential sentence of zero days in jail up to 365 days in jail or a prison sentence of three to 12.5 years in prison. If the jury determines that the vehicle qualified as a deadly weapon, vehicular manslaughter is a dangerous class 2 felony carrying from seven to 21 years in prison.

Hit and Run Wrong Way Accidents

In most head-on collisions involving a wrong-way driver, the driver is unlikely to be able to flee the scene of the accident because of the severity of damage to his or her own vehicle. However, if a wrong-way driver does manage to flee an accident, he or she may be charged with a hit-and-run collision under A.R.S. § 28-662. Hit-and-run accidents that result in death or serious injuries are class 2 felonies for first offenses. People who are convicted of a hit and run accident that caused a serious injury or fatality may face from zero to 365 days in jail or prison time ranging from three to 12.5 years.

A wrong way hit and run accident that did not result in a death or serious injury is a class five felony. People who are convicted of this offense may face probation up to one year in jail, or prison from six months up to 2 years.

Defenses to Wrong Way Driving Charges

The particular defenses that might be available will depend on the charge and the circumstances. In cases involving accidents, an attorney may hire an accident reconstruction expert to recreate the accident scene. Attorneys may challenge the forensic evidence that the state is using against their clients such as any breath or blood tests. In cases in which the driver was not impaired by alcohol or drugs, an attorney may challenge that the client’s driving behavior was reckless. For example, the lawyer may present evidence of confusion, poorly designed ramps, poor ramp signage, and other types of evidence showing that the person’s behavior was not willful but was instead due to a different factor. For a hit-and-run wrong way accident, a lawyer may present evidence that the defendant was scared to stop because of the area’s general danger.

Getting help from attorneys at DM Cantor for your wrong way driving charges might help you to obtain a favorable outcome. Our legal team carefully assesses the facts of what happened and work to devise strong defensive strategies for our clients. Contact Us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about your rights.

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