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Wrong-way driver warning system showing promise, ADOT says

(Arizona Department of Public Safety via the Associated Press)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Transportation said a new system designed to reduce the risk of serious crashes involving wrong-way drivers has kept more than a dozen vehicles from entering the freeway in the wrong direction.

The $4 million wrong-way vehicle detection and warning system has been operating since January along a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 through Phoenix between the I-10 and Loop 101 interchanges.

Calling the results “promising,” the department said in a news release it anticipates expanding the system to other areas, including the new Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, which is scheduled to open late in 2019.

Using 90 thermal cameras, the system detects when a vehicle is driving against traffic on an off-ramp or frontage road.

When the system is triggered, wrong-way signs with flashing red lights come on in an attempt to get the driver’s attention.

The system also alerts ADOT, which puts “Wrong Way Driver/Ahead/Exit Freeway” warnings on its overhead message boards, and the Department of Public Safety.

Without the new technology, authorities usually rely on 911 calls from other motorists to find out about wrong-way drivers, and it can be too late to prevent an accident by then.

On Monday night, two women were killed when a wrong-way driver smashed into another car on on State Route 347 at Riggs Road south of Phoenix.

Authorities said it was the 24th wrong-way collision in the state this year, and they have fielded almost 650 calls about vehicles traveling in the wrong direction.

In 2017, DPS logged more than 1,700 calls about wrong-way drivers on the freeways and highways.

The incidents often involve drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs.

In March, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill making driving the wrong way on a freeway while impaired a felony.

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