The Arizona Department of Transportation plans on testing the nation’s first prototype to detect wrong-way driving with the help of the Department of Public Safety to ensure safer driving conditions on Arizona freeways, said an ADOT representative.
Steve Elliot, a spokesman with ADOT, said the testing of the wrong-way vehicle prototype is scheduled to begin over the next year.
“The prototype will be able to pinpoint wrong way drivers for DPS and help officers achieve a faster response time,” Elliot said.
The prototype system is predicted to be established on Interstate 17 in the Phoenix area. ADOT will determine the exact location of the prototype in the coming year, Elliot said.
This system aims to enhance in-pavement freeway sensors and would track vehicles going the wrong direction as well as the right direction. The prototype system will also use technology to warn drivers through overhead message boards of a wrong-way driver. Through this system ramp meters will also display a solid red light to hold traffic from entering the freeway when a wrong-way vehicle is detected in the area, said Elliot.
In Dec. 2014, ADOT began testing two Wavetronix detection devices, separate from the prototype system being tested next year, on a couple of Loop 101 freeway exit ramps in the West Valley, said Elliot. Three other devices made by TAPCO were installed in Aug. 2015 on the northbound Interstate 17 exit to State Route 74, the eastbound Interstate 10 exit at Ray Road and the northbound Loop 101 off-ramp at Thunderbird Road, said Elliot.
“These locations were based on previous research, including figures from the Department of Public Safety on 9-1-1 emergency calls reporting wrong-way vehicles,” Elliott said.
For these devices when a wrong-way driver is detected, the system activates blinking red LED lights on two “wrong way” signs to try to warn the driver that they are traveling the wrong way. The system also sends an email message with photos to notify ADOT and DPS that a wrong-way vehicle was detected. The system uses radar and camera sensors designed to detect wrong-way vehicles on freeway exit ramps, said Elliott.
The wrong-way driving prototype and the wrong-way detection devices currently in use will be used together to combat wrong-way driving on Arizona freeways, Elliott said.
“We have not picked up any detection of actual wrong-way drivers since installing these devices. But DPS closes these off-ramps late at night to test them when no one is on the road,” Elliott said.
During an average month DPS receives 25 calls of wrong-way drivers across the state. However, DPS only has contact with 10 percent of the wrong-way drivers, said Bart Graves, a representative with DPS.
“Most wrong-way drivers figure it out themselves and get off the roadway before something happens,” said Graves. “Some are elderly or confused while others may be from out of state and unfamiliar with our roadways.”
Nicole Choksi, an Arizona driver originally from Chicago, said that when she first started driving in Arizona she was confused by the freeways and almost became a wrong-way driver.
“On a few occasions, I almost turned the wrong way into an exit ramp. Luckily, I never did. There was poor signage and I didn’t know where I was going,” Choksi said.
Graves said most of the wrong-way drivers however are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
“We are dealing with a social problem. Impaired driving is a leading problem that needs to be fought through education and awareness,”Elliott said.
ADOT and DPS have been working alongside the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to reduce impaired driving as well as reduce the risk of wrong-way vehicle crashes, said Elliott.
“We urge drivers to stay in the middle lanes when driving at night when most of these incidents occur, that way they can take evasive action to avoid contact with the wrong-way driver,”Graves said.
Along with the wrong-way detection devices, ADOT has installed over 500 larger and lower “wrong way” and “do not enter” signs at six freeway interchanges in the Phoenix area, said Elliott.
“I think that the larger signs are safer for drivers in Arizona and make everyone more aware. I am glad that they are making the signs more obvious to prevent these serious accidents from happening,”Choksi said.
“Safety is our top priority. We hope that these new signs and devices will prevent wrong-way driving incidents from happening,”Elliott said.