A 22-year-old man driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the I-17 crashed into sisters, 19 and 20, who were driving northbound on April 14. All three were killed in the wreck, said Raul Garica, DPS spokesman.
State transportation officials on Friday said they intend to install a system later this year aimed at curbing wrong-way freeway drivers in the Valley.
The Arizona Department of Transportation told The Arizona Republic that they are “designing a wrong-way detection and warning prototype system” that is expected to be implemented along Interstate 17 between Interstate 10 and Loop 101 in Phoenix.
Plans have been in the works since at least 2015, when ADOT conducted a study from January to November of that year to develop a warning and detection system designed to prevent wrong-way collisions such as the accident early Friday morning that left three people dead on Interstate 17.
From 2004 to 2014, there was an average of 22 confirmed wrong-way crashes each year, and eight fatalities on average each year from these sorts of accidents, according to the ADOT study.
“The goal is reducing the risk from wrong-way incidents by significantly improving the timeliness and accuracy of information available to law enforcement, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, compared to responding officers relying on information relayed by 911 callers,” according to ADOT’s statement to The Republic.
The system is designed to detect, alert and track wrong-way drivers by combining detection systems at freeway exit ramps, on the freeway and on freeway-to-freeway ramps to alert law enforcement and ADOT traffic operators, as well as allow them to track the location of wrong-way drivers, according to ADOT.
Flashing LED warning signs will be put into place to attempt to get wrong-way drivers to self-correct, and the system will activate alerts on overhead message boards to notify other drivers. ADOT traffic cameras also will automatically turn toward the wrong-way vehicle to help officials track it., ADOT said.
Thermal sensors will be put into place as another measure to update the location of wrong-way vehicles, allowing law enforcement to track the vehicles along mainline freeways, ADOT said.
“ADOT’s efforts to date include installing hundreds of larger and lowered ‘Wrong Way’ and ‘Do Not Enter’ signs as well large white ‘right way’ arrows on off-ramps with reflectors that glow bright red when a vehicle is traveling the wrong way,” the statement read.
ADOT also said it has been testing “different versions of wrong-way vehicle detection and warning systems manufactured by private companies,” on freeway ramps.
DPS: Majority of wrong-way drivers impaired
DPS spokesman Raul Garcia said the majority of wrong-way collisions are the result of driver impairment. According to the DPS website, 60 percent of wrong-way drivers in 2016 were impaired by alcohol. Updated figures on the number of wrong-way incidents were not immediately available.
“It’s time people stay out of that driver’s seat if they’re impaired,” Garcia said. “We need folks to start taking those keys away from people who are impaired.”
Garcia said awareness is the key for motorists on freeways in the event they encounter a wrong-way driver or other hazard. Garcia said it’s important to “avoid all distractions when you’re driving a vehicle, and always have a plan for those hazards that you’re going to run into.”
Drivers should have the same level of awareness to avoid not just wrong-way or impaired drivers, but also debris in the road, animals, sudden traffic, and anything else that could cause a traffic accident, Garcia said.
Garcia said DPS troopers often receive reports of a wrong-way freeway driver but the motorist will be off the freeway or correct themselves before an accident or trooper finds them.
“Ultimately, engineering, along with enforcement, can be only one part of the response to wrong-way driving because this is first and foremost a driver behavior issue,” ADOT’s statement said. “The majority of wrong-way drivers are drunk or otherwise impaired. In addition to education about the societal problem of impaired driving, we need everyone working to keep friends, family and strangers from driving while impaired.”
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