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Number of wrong-way driving incidents in Arizona up in 2017

PHOENIX — The issue of wrong-way drivers continues to plague Arizona — and it’s appearing to get worse.

Col. Frank Milstead, the head of Arizona Department of Public Safety, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that the number of wrong-way driving incidents have grown by more than 8 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Since Jan. 1, Milstead said the department has logged 1,721 incidents of wrong-way drivers across Arizona.

By this time last year, that number was at 1,589, Milstead said.

Milstead said multiple public information campaigns, a partnership with the Phoenix Police Department and the installation of a $3.7 million thermal detection system on the Interstate 17 has had some effect, but not enough.

The public safety head said impaired driving is to blame for a majority of those incidents, expanding on his September comment that about 70 percent of wrong-way crashes on state highways are caused by impaired drivers.

“If you look at the numbers of arrested drunk drivers over the last 10 years, they haven’t changed a lot because we as a society haven’t gotten in front of this issue and decided it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Milstead has also said in the past that a lack of police officers is one of the main reasons there are more wrong-way drivers on state freeways.

It is no secret that state leaders, including Gov. Doug Ducey, have wanted to put an end to the wrong-way driving problem that has plagued the state over the years.

The state began construction on a wrong-way driver detection system in November.

The project was approved by the state Transportation Board in June and then accelerated by Ducey after a series of wrong way accident-related deaths occurred in the same month.

The detection system, once installed, will cause lights to flash at wrong-way drivers to get them to stop. They will also alert authorities and make traffic cameras turn toward the driver so the vehicle can be tracked.

They are expected to be operational by early next year.

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline contributed to this report. 

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