Vehicles being driven the wrong way on England’s motorways rose to almost 900 in the last 12 months.

This is an increase of 13%, according to figures described as “frightening”.

Motoring groups are calling for technological interventions to reverse the increase in these potentially lethal driving errors.

Potentially deadly

National Highways figures show the reports of “oncoming vehicles” on its motorway network rose to 872 in the year to 19 June. This is up 102 on the previous year (13%).

The data comes from responses to a Freedom of Information request by PA news agency. It focuses on unconfirmed reports of wrong-way driving received by National Highways’ regional operations centres.

However, there are many fatal incidents and crashes causing casualties too.

Recent incidents include:

  • The death of three men in June 2022 when a stolen van was driven in the wrong direction by a 15-year-old boy who crashed into a taxi on the M606 near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

  • Police in Gloucestershire released footage of a four-vehicle crash caused by a drunk woman driving the wrong way for more than two miles on the M5 near Tewkesbury last October.

  • West Mercia police appealed for dashcam footage in June this year after a VW Golf involved in a head-on crash with a van was believed to have been “deliberately driven in the wrong direction at speed” on the M5 near Spetchley, Worcestershire.

Scream saver

Edmund King, president of the AA, describes the figures as “frightening” .

“Various incidents seem to be clearly down to drunk drivers for which there is absolutely no excuse,” says King.  “These drunk drivers should not be on the roads.

“Generally the slip road layout and signage is designed to ensure joining the motorway in the right direction is intuitive.”

He also states that the habitual use of satnavs is also having a seriouslyt detrimental effect on the way drivers blindly follow instructions.

“Sometimes drivers follow satnav directions without thinking, for example, to ‘take the third exit’, without actually checking the signage, and therefore they can make mistakes.”

King urged motorists to “use common sense” and not “over-rely” on the satnav.

Looking for help

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “To most drivers it’s the stuff of nightmares to think that anyone could drive the wrong way down a motorway.

“Yet despite highway engineers’ best efforts to make it hard to mistake the off-ramp for a slip road, these numbers show there’s a lot more work to be done.

“Could more be done with technology – perhaps slip-road sensors that trigger roadside warnings?

“The ability of information to be fed to and from our increasingly connected and intelligent cars must create the opportunity for alerts to be generated and displayed within the vehicle.”

Driver responsibility

While there is undoubtedly more that can be done when it comes to engineering, it is the driver who is ultimately responsible. Increasing reliance on technology and a laziness behind the wheel is leading to perfectly avoidable dangers.

“It’s so important to be aware and alert when driving,” says Jo Shiner, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing.

“Please keep any distractions to a minimum and concentrate on the signs and information provided for your safety.”

Sheena Hague, National Highways director of road safety, says the issues are serious but, thankfully, relatively low.

“We design our motorways to be as intuitive as possible to reduce the likelihood of anyone driving the wrong way.”

Drivers who see a vehicle travelling in the wrong direction are urged to contact 999 if it is safe to do so or use a motorway SOS phone to alert the authorities.