Drivers were forced to swerve out of the way when an 82-year-old woman drove the wrong way along an unlit section of the M6 on Sunday night.
Police said cars spun out of control and one crashed as it avoided the pensioner's silver Peugeot near Shap in Cumbria.
The woman, from Windermere, travelled for four miles in the outside lane before police patrol cars halted her.
A spokesman said she could face a charge of dangerous driving.
Sgt Paul Brown, of Cumbria Police, said the pensioner, who had stopped immediately on seeing the police cars' flashing lights, was taken to Penrith Police Station for questioning following the incident.
He said: "She's quite confused about what happened.
"We've established that she was trying to travel between Carlisle and Windermere and has somehow managed to make a wrong turn and has ended up coming back up the motorway."
A police spokesman added that it was a "miracle" a serious collision had not occurred and thanked drivers who had alerted police by mobile phone.
He said: "We believe she was going the wrong way for up to four miles and she was travelling between 60 and 70 mph in the southbound fast lane.
"The motorway at this point is remote without street lighting and drivers travelling southbound would have only been aware of the approaching vehicle as it was almost upon them."
The driver of a Daewoo car was treated for whiplash at the scene after crashing into the central reservation to evade a head-on smash with the Peugeot.
Drivers began phoning police on seeing the woman near Shap Summit and she was stopped at Shap Beck.
The Crown Prosecution Service will now decide if she should be charged.