If you find yourself on Interstate 17 this Thanksgiving holiday and you see a big red WRONG WAY sign overhead in the fast lane, that’s a hint.
If you are on a freeway ramp and you see a big white arrow pointing at you with red reflector lights all along it, that, too, is a hint.
Here’s a big hint: Take the hint.
It means you are driving the wrong way onto or on a freeway and, statistically speaking, the odds are high that you’ve had more nog than egg. No, your confusion can’t be blamed on the tryptophan, that stuff in turkeys that makes you want to curl up instead of hearing more cringe-worthy puns, family tales, or political rants from your relatives.
There are probably fewer better times for the Arizona Department of Transportation to roll out new measures to curb wrong-way drivers. Thanksgiving tends to be one of the sauciest national holidays, and we don’t mean sexy. We mean hooch.
A slew of fatal and otherwise high-profile wrong-way crashes led ADOT earlier this year to accelerate the deployment of its first-in-the-nation system of thermal cameras, alarms, and sensors on I-17's deadliest stretch for such crashes, a 15-mile section between The Stack and the Loop 101 interchange.
Research into the causes and consequences of wrong-way drivers is clear.
Researchers at Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute found that half of all wrong-way collisions kill or cripple.
Drunk drivers cause three-quarters of all wrong-way crashes, of which half occur around 2 a.m., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported.
ADOT commissioned one of the most thorough studies ever conducted on the subject. It examined the details of 269 wrong-way crashes, 68 of them fatal, on state highways between 2004 and 2014.
It found that the number and rate of fatal crashes has steadily been falling for decades nationally, while the number of fatal wrong-way crashes has been creeping up.
One-quarter of all wrong-way crashes involve fatalities. That number is 1 percent for other crashes on divided highways.
Two-thirds of the drivers that were caught were impaired by booze or drugs. More than 40 percent of those had more than double the legal limit of alcohol in their systems. The chances that a wrong-way driver is impaired are 13 times greater than for drivers in regular crashes.
This week, ADOT added the big red signs and the arrows to complement the thermal cameras already in operation. Early next year, ADOT plans to have the $3.7 million system complete on I-17's 15-mile danger zone.
"Thermal cameras will detect wrong-way vehicles on I-17 off-ramps, alerting ADOT and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, posting warning messages to drivers traveling in the right direction along the freeway and activating an internally illuminated, flashing 'Wrong Way' sign on the ramp as a way to get the driver’s attention,” ADOT officials said in a release Tuesday.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are ramping up the customary maximum enforcement, saturation patrols and DUI checkpoints around the Valley and beyond this holiday season. See below for the list of areas set for increased patrols:
EAST VALLEY DUI TASK FORCE
Enhanced Enforcement (6 p.m.-4 a.m.)
November 24 — 7601 East McKellips Road, Scottsdale
November 25 — 2330 Rio Salado Parkway, Mesa
WEST VALLEY DUI TASK FORCE
Saturation Patrol (7 p.m.-3 a.m.)
November 22 11 North 145 Avenue, Goodyear
November 25 8351 West Cinnabar Avenue
PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT
November 22, 24-25 (9 p.m.-4 a.m.)
1610 East Bell Road - QT
2212 East Bell Road - QT
3443 South Central Avenue
2700 West Thomas Road - QT
APACHE JUNCTION PD
November 22-25 (8 p.m.-2 a.m.)
DPS METRO SOUTH
No Need For Speed
(November 22 noon-3 p.m.)
DPS METRO PHOENIX-NIGHT WATCH
November 22, 25 West Valley DUI Task Force
November 24-25 East Valley DUI Task Force
EL MIRAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT
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GILA RIVER POLICE DEPARTMENT
November 22 through December 31 (5 p.m.-3 a.m.)
GOODYEAR POLICE DEPARTMENT
Enhanced Patrol 11 North 145th Avenue
November 22, 25 (7 p.m.-4 a.m.) West Valley Task Force
PARADISE VALLEY PD
November 22-25 (7 p.m.-1 a.m.)
Weekends and Holidays
PEORIA POLICE DEPARTMENT
November 25, West Valley Task Force (6 p.m.-4 a.m.)