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Wrong-way collisions are rare but deadly, according to national statistics

Five people died early Monday after a wrong-way collision on I-495.
Five people died early Monday after a wrong-way collision on I-495.(George Rizer for The Boston Globe)

Wrong-way collisions nationwide have killed about 360 people each year, on average, in recent years.

Early Monday, a wrong-way crash on Interstate 495 in Middleborough killed the driver, a 31-year-old woman from Fall River, and four students from Worcester-area colleges.

Such crashes have been relatively rare — wrong-way collisions accounted for just 3 percent of crashes on high-speed divided highways in recent years — but are much more likely to result in fatal and serious injuries than other types of crashes, according to studies in recent years by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

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Studies have estimated the fatality rate for wrong-way crashes is between 12 and 27 times higher than it is for other types of accidents.

Wrong-way crashes have claimed other lives on New England highways in recent months.

■  Earlier this month, five teens from Vermont were killed in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 in Williston, Vt.

■  In August, a 28-year-old Rutland man died when he drove the wrong way on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Southborough.

■  In July, a wrong-way driver collided with another car on Interstate 495 in Mansfield killing the motorists in both vehicles.

■  And in May, a wrong-way crash killed a Bedford man and an off-duty Rhode Island police officer on Interstate 95 in East Greenwich, R.I., according to the Lowell Sun.

National statistics show wrong-way collisions are most likely to happen between midnight and 3 a.m. A majority occurred on weekends.

Drivers most often wind up headed in the wrong direction when they mistakenly enter an exit ramp, instead of an entrance ramp, research shows.

Drivers in wrong-way crashes are more likely to not be properly licensed to drive than drivers in other types of crashes, the national study said. Alcohol was more than twice as likely to be a factor in fatal wrong-way crashes than in other deadly crashes.

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Lisa Tuite of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrochele.