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(WASHINGTON) — A driver traveling in the wrong direction is a frightening sight with often tragic consequences.

Nearly 400 people die each year from wrong-way driving, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Most of the deaths occur from head-on, high-speed accidents. In fact, 22 percent of wrong-way crashes are fatal, compared with less than 1 percent of all other crashes.

On Tuesday, the same day the NTSB launched a national crackdown on wrong-way driving, three women, including a mother and daughter, were killed in Connecticut when a Rhode Island man smashed into their vehicle while driving north in a southbound lane.

Deborah Hersman, the NTSB’s chairman, said these accidents were “completely preventable.”

According to the board, 15 percent of wrong-way crashes involve drivers older than 70 years old. The real danger is usually alcohol, though.

Drunk drivers cause 60 percent of wrong-way crashes and nearly 10 percent of those accidents are done by repeat offenders.

The NTSB is recommending that each state require an ignition lock on all cars driven by anyone convicted of a DUI.

“The purpose of an ignition interlock is truly to save lives. That’s the key. So a person who’s been convicted of drunk driving, then they have this device and they blow into it and that it can detect how much alcohol is in their systems. And if they’re above a .02, then the car won’t start,” said Jan Withers, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The agency is also pushing car manufacturers to fast-track new technology that installs sensors in all cars to determine whether any driver is sober before allowing ignition. It’s also interested in a Houston freeway that has sensors that sound an alarm to drivers and police if a person is traveling in the wrong direction.

“You will not be allowed to get behind the wheel and use your car as a lethal weapon,” Hersman said.

The NTSB is looking at lowering and making bigger wrong-way signs as well as eliminating fast lane exits in an effort to avoid more deadly accidents.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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