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Nearly 740 wrong-way drivers reported this year on Arizona freeways

PHOENIX — Nearly 740 wrong-way drivers have been reported on Arizona freeways this year, the state Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

“This isn’t multiple calls. This is incidents,” DPS Director Col. Frank Milstead said. “We only count one call per incident. This isn’t 50 people called in on one guy.”

Milstead said his agency had received calls about eight wrong-way drivers in the past 24 hours alone. One of those slammed into another car head-on Tuesday night on State Route 51, killing two and injuring one.

Of the hundreds of wrong-way driving incidents that have been reported this year, four have been in fatal crashes and eight others have involved injuries. Nearly 40 of the drivers have been arrested.

“A lot of these people self-correct. A lot of these people we never find – they get on and off without incident,” Milstead said. “But when it happens in these metropolitan areas, the chances for collision are obviously significant.”

Milstead said Arizona is on the forefront of making changes to prevent wrong-way drivers.

“As a state, we’re trying to do everything we can and keep people alive,” he said.

Milstead explained the Arizona Department of Transportation was mulling ideas to add a two-part system of lights that would let drivers know they are driving the wrong way or a type of photo enforcement at the bottom of ramps.

“They want to be able to take a photo of the driver entering the freeway going the wrong way and a license plate number so we can follow up and do enforcement,” he said, adding that he was unsure if either idea had been approved.

He also said the agency will have to be more creative than just throwing drivers behind bars.

“Like most things in life, we’re not going to arrest our way out of it,” he said.

But Milstead said the state can only do so much. Some of the responsibility falls squarely on the public.

“I think all too often people want to make this a road design issue or an enforcement issue,” he said. “There are obviously places where we can do better in both of those areas, but, really, this is a social responsibility issue.”

Milstead said more than 80 percent of wrong-way drivers are impaired by either drugs or alcohol and people have to step in if they are concerned about someone who wants to get behind the wheel.

“I think people have to step up and make sure their friends don’t drive impaired, that bartenders don’t overserve and that you have the instinct to not even take medication that tells you not to drive,” he said.

KTAR’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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