National Highways figures, obtained by the PA News Agency, show 872 incidents involving “oncoming vehicles” were reported on England’s motorways from June 19, 2022 to 2023.
That is up from 770 during the previous 12 months and represents an average of more than 16 every week.
Motoring groups described the increase as “frightening” and called for technological interventions to be considered.
“Various incidents seem to be clearly down to drunk drivers for which there is absolutely no excuse. 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.
“However, sometimes drivers follow sat nav directions without thinking, for example, to ‘take the third exit’, without actually checking the signage, and therefore they can make mistakes.”
Mr King urged motorists to “use common sense” and not “over-rely” on the sat nav.
One of the most serious incidents in recent years left three men dead when a stolen van was driven in the wrong direction by a 15-year-old boy and crashed into a taxi on the M606 near Bradford, West Yorkshire in June 2022.
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?”
Sheena Hague, National Highways director of road safety, said: “Safety is our top priority and our traffic officers are called out to hundreds of thousands of incidents each year.
“Thankfully the number of reports of oncoming vehicles is low, however we treat them seriously by setting signals to warn and inform drivers for every report of a vehicle driving the wrong way on our motorways.
“We design our motorways to be as intuitive as possible to reduce the likelihood of anyone driving the wrong way.”
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Speed limits are usually cut to 20mph on motorway stretches where a vehicle being driven towards other traffic is reported.
Incidents of wrong-way driving on motorways in England
With wrong-way driving on England’s motorways on the rise, PA News Agency rounded up six recent incidents:
June 14, 2023: West Mercia Police appealed for dashcam footage 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.
April 15, 2023: An elderly motorist drove the wrong way down an exit slip road on the M40 at Handy Cross, Buckinghamshire.
The driver, who pulled over onto the hard shoulder, failed an eyesight test and surrendered his licence.
October 14, 2022: A man died after the car he was travelling in was hit by another being driven the wrong way on the M6 near Lutterworth, Leicestershire.
The 41-year-old man was jailed for 10 years and six months at Leicester Crown Court after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and three counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
The court heard the crash happened after he drove following an argument with his wife and a night of drinking.
October 5, 2022: A drunk woman drove the wrong way on the M5 near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, for more than two miles before causing a four-vehicle crash.
The driver from Bredon, Worcestershire, provided a roadside breath test that was more than three times the legal limit.
The 65-year-old was handed a 20-month suspended prison sentence, £10,000 fine and 10-year driving ban at Gloucester Crown Court after admitting drink-driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
June 13, 2022: Three men were killed when a stolen van being driven the wrong way on the M606 crashed head-on with a taxi near Bradford, West Yorkshire.
The van was being driven boy who was just 15 at the time.
He was sentenced at Bradford Crown Court to six years in detention after pleading guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving and one count of dangerous driving.
January 23, 2022: An officer from Kent Police was seriously injured on the M25 near Swanley when he was hit by a stolen motorbike travelling in the wrong direction.
The officer was standing next to his car as part of patrols responding to a report of the stolen vehicle.
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.