Five Nights That Could Save Your Life: What to Do to Avoid a Wrong-Way Driver

Dallas police officer shares three things drivers should do

By Meredith Land
|  Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011  |  Updated 12:32 AM CDT
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Dallas police say there are three things that can save a driver's life in a head-on scenario.

Meredith Land, NBC 5 News

Dallas police say there are three things that can save a driver's life in a head-on scenario.

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It can be terrifying for drivers to see headlights shining at them from the wrong way, but experts say they should not freeze.

Drunken drivers, sleepy motorists or just people who take a wrong turn -- all kinds of bad decisions can lead to a wrong-way crash. City planners and roadway engineers continue to search for the best solution, but the problem persists.

Police officers say in a typical crash, drivers have only a second and a half to make a move that could save their lives.

Dallas police Sgt. Paul Hinton says there are three things that can save a driver's life in a head-on scenario.

First, hand placement is key to your control of the vehicle, he says. Your hands should be on the steering wheel at nine o'clock and three o'clock, not 10 o'clock and two o'clock.

Second, do not slam on the brakes. If you are going fast, you will flip. Swerve quickly and hit anything except that oncoming car.

"It's always better to steer and hit something else other than a car head-on," Hinton said. "The forces of a head-on collision are almost always fatal."

The third action to take: Stay away from the far left lane if it is later than 10 p.m.

"A wrong-way driver is in our left lane, but they are in their right lane so, if at all possible, we want to stay out of that left lane and take the center lane or right lane," Hinton said.

But all of those things are easier said than done.

Hinton has spent his career training police officers how to miss oncoming cars. His training course, which is set up at the naval air station, teaches officers how to maneuver around a wrong-way driver, among other things.

Hinton challenged me to try his collision course at 60 mph.

Instinctively, my hands went to 10 o'clock and two o'clock on the steering wheel. I was quickly corrected.

On my first try -- before I was taught any techniques -- I hit numerous cones representing an oncoming car.

Hinton said my second try was jerky, but I missed the cones.

And my third try was the charm. I swerved in and out of the cones without braking and didn't lose control.

But remember, I was fully focused and anticipating a crash up ahead.

When it is late, if the radio is blaring, if you're on the phone or if you're just tired, the second and a half it normally takes for you to react could double or triple.

Bobbi Verduzco, whose daughter was killed in a wrong-way crash in 2009, says drivers should be ready.

"I don't want another mom to get that knock on the door -- ever," she said.

Her daughter's death has inspired her to speak out against wrong-way crashes, she said.

Kara Elizabeth Taylor died just a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday on the Dallas North Tollway, not far from where she is buried in Frisco. She was killed instantly.

"I think about, 'What did she see?' and how frightening and horrifying to see that," Verduzco said. "That's your last image."

She said her daughter was "an awesome person" who was very caring.

"I think about her, and I know when I talk about her, I get a big huge smile on my face," Verduzco said.

Last year, 28 people died in wrong-way crashes in North Texas.

There were almost 500 deaths across the state, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, which classifies the crashes as head-on collisions.

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