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ADOT Tested Systems to Detect Wrong-Way Drivers Last Year

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Seven people have been killed by wrong-way drivers on highways around Phoenix over the last week, and highway-safety officials held an "emergency meeting" to discuss the issue.

While there's no one solution to the problem, it was just last year that the Arizona Department of Transportation tested out some systems to detect wrong-way drivers.

See also:
-Mesa Police Officer Killed by Wrong-Way Driver

Thanks to a $25,000 federal grant, ADOT tested out six such systems, which used microwaves, radar, video, thermal sensors, or magnetic detection to test tracking of wrong-way drivers at certain highway exit ramps.

The purpose of the report wasn't to go ahead with implementing a system, and was only intended as a test:

The aggressive testing schedule and limited funding of this project restricted the design of an "ideal" installation, but provided the opportunity to test the limits of each product and prove that wrong-way vehicle detection is viable under normal traffic operating conditions. . .

This initial proof of concept provides insight into the operational feasibility of non-intrusive wrong-way detection devices; however, further study is required to develop driver notification signing and ultimately notify oncoming traffic of an errant driver traveling in their direction. Cost effectiveness of the system should also be studied to determine the feasibility. The total system cost should include design, construction, operations, and maintenance.

ADOT spokesman Tim Tait tells New Times, "We are moving into the next phase of study, which examines communicating information on wrong-way drivers, before we look at technology implementation strategies."

The report doesn't say how many wrong-way drivers were found when they set up the devices for a week at a time, but they did do some controlled testing, in which they closed the ramps and drove the wrong way on purpose.

Each system worked more often than not, and the thermal video, microwave, and one of the radar systems were successful in each run they did.

The technology seems to work, as such systems have been installed in the Houston area.

However, detection is only part of the challenge with the wrong-way drivers.

In the first of the three wrong-way crashes in the last week, Mesa Police Officer Brandon Mendoza was killed by a wrong-way driver, Raul Silva Corona, who'd been going in the wrong direction for 30 miles on Phoenix highways. Arizona Department of Public Safety officers had been alerted early on, and an officer was able to get ahead and try to block him off, but Corona was able to evade the officer, not long before hitting Mendoza, who had just finished a shift, and was heading home for the night. Mendoza and Corona died in the crash.

Later last week, three people were killed by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 17, north of Phoenix. Then, on Sunday, two people were killed by a wrong-way driver on the Loop 202 Santan Freeway.

According to a statement from ADOT, this "emergency meeting" of highway-safety officials didn't result in any drastic changes. Read excerpts of the statement below:

he Highway Patrol's top priority is to remove impaired drivers from Arizona roadways. With the support of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, local and county police agencies, we will continue to remove DUI drivers from our roadways in order to reduce the occurrence of serious injury and/or fatal crashes on Arizona roadways . . .

ADOT affirmed its commitment to study freeway on- and off-ramp configuration and continue research into strategies to detect, communicate and intercept wrong-way drivers. Already, ADOT has lowered "wrong way" signs on freeway exit ramps to be more at a driver' eye level and, since 1995, has installed red reflectors in freeway lanes to warn wrong-way drivers.

""While there might not be an immediate engineering-based strategy ADOT can implement, we are committed to researching national practices for detecting wrong-way drivers, communicating that information to law enforcement and other motorists, and trying to send a message to the wrong-way driver," said ADOT Director John Halikowski. "We will assess our current methods and strategies and see what can be improved, as we look for feasible innovative solutions."

The agencies urge all drivers to talk with others about how, as a defensive driver, they would handle an encounter with a wrong-way driver. Tips for motorists include driving in the center and right lanes, especially during overnight hours when wrong-way drivers are more likely to be encountered. Motorists should also be good witnesses, making quick 911 calls when a wrong-way or impaired driver is observed and providing dispatchers with good information on the vehicle, location and direction of travel to assist officers with a quick intercept. Motorists should "expect the unexpected" when on the road, not drive distracted and report all suspected impaired drivers immediately to law enforcement.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

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Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

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