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Detection system tips off 1st wrong-way driver on Interstate 17 in Phoenix

(Arizona Department of Transportation Photo)

PHOENIX — The state’s new detection system along a stretch of Interstate 17 in Phoenix alerted authorities to a wrong-way driver on the freeway for the first time this week.

The driver heading south in northbound lanes near Union Hills Road around 1 a.m. Thursday triggered the Arizona Department of Transportation’s alert system, which is in the testing phase.

He got off the freeway before hitting anything, ADOT said, and then got back on the freeway, this time going in the right direction.

Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers stopped the car and took the driver into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence.

The $4 million system went online in January, keeping tabs on 15 miles of the north-south freeway between Interstate 10 and Loop 101. Thermal cameras have spotted 21 vehicles driving onto ramps or frontage roads in the wrong direction, but not on the freeway until this week, the transportation agency said.

When the system detects a wrong-way driver, a loud horn goes off in the traffic operations center. Next, video of the vehicle is displayed on screens. Employees switch on digital message boards to let other drivers in the area know the situation.

Arizona Department of Public Safety staff logged more than 1,700 calls about wrong-way drivers on the freeways and highways last year.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill in March that made driving the wrong way on a freeway while impaired a felony.

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