Nevada's wrong-way driver alert system uses radar and closed-circuit cameras to automatically detect vehicles entering in the wrong direction, activating two sets of red flashing wrong-way signs on the ramp. As a highly-visible additional indication to stop drivers from entering the wrong way, the first set of signs stands 4 feet high instead of the standard 7-foot sign height to more readily reach the lower eye level of sleepy or impaired drivers.   -  Photo: Nevada DOT

Nevada's wrong-way driver alert system uses radar and closed-circuit cameras to automatically detect vehicles entering in the wrong direction, activating two sets of red flashing wrong-way signs on the ramp. As a highly-visible additional indication to stop drivers from entering the wrong way, the first set of signs stands 4 feet high instead of the standard 7-foot sign height to more readily reach the lower eye level of sleepy or impaired drivers. 

Photo: Nevada DOT

It was around midnight on a December night. A trucker was headed westbound on I-20, not far from the Heflin weigh station near the Alabama-Georgia border, when his Freightliner was hit head-on by a Toyota Camry speeding the wrong way down the interstate. The 42-year-old woman driving the car was killed.

My husband and I were also on I-20 west just past Heflin that night, heading home from the Atlanta airport. We had to drive there from Birmingham to pick up our daughter, who otherwise was faced with a night in the airport after a long-delayed flight home from college for Christmas break.

We were just starting to pull out from behind a rig to pass when suddenly, lights were in our face and a car zoomed by, just missing us. It happened so fast, we couldn’t even comprehend what was happening until the car was nearly invisible in our rear-view mirror.

Extremely shaken, we pulled off the highway at the next exit and called the Alabama Highway Patrol. We later learned that by the time we pulled off, the crash had already happened.

That was a year ago, and I was reminded of it when our daughter recently arrived home for another Christmas.

The we-could-have-been-killed panic stayed with us for quite a while. I can only imagine the emotions of the driver, who I doubt could have done anything to avoid the crash.

Wrong-Way Crashes: More Common Than You Think

When I went to Google the day after our near miss to see if there had been any news about a wrong-way crash on I-20 that night, I was astounded by the number of stories about wrong-way fatalities.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there were 2,008 deaths from wrong-way driving crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, an average of approximately 500 deaths a year. That is up 34% from the 375 deaths annually from 2010 to 2014.

“Wrong-way crashes on divided highways are often fatal, as they are typically head-on collisions,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “And unfortunately, as the data shows, fatalities from these crashes are on the rise.”

Because so many of these wrong-way drivers are impaired, AAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have called for state policymakers to consider alcohol-ignition interlock devices. They also recommend high-visibility enforcement, as well as infrastructure countermeasures, such as installing more-visible traffic signs and signals that follow national standards and at proper locations.

Some states in recent years have turned to new technology to address the problem of wrong-way drivers.

Arizona's I-17 Pilot Program

The Arizona Department of Transportation appears to be one of the first, if not the first, state to develop an integrated, corridor-level system for detecting wrong-way vehicles, notifying law enforcement, and warning both wrong-way drivers and right-way traffic. The Interstate 17 Wrong-Way Vehicle Detection Pilot System became operational in January 2018.

The system, which covers a 15-mile stretch of I-17 between I-10 and State Loop 101, is also the first in the nation to track wrong-way vehicles in real time, according to the state. The system uses thermal cameras for primary detection of wrong-way vehicles along exit ramps and at other potential points of entry onto the freeway’s mainline lanes. Video clips generated by the cameras allow ADOT dispatchers and Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers stationed in ADOT’s Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix to visually verify and track wrong-way vehicles.

Enhanced warning signage is also part of the I-17 system. Along with oversized and lowered static Wrong Way and Do Not Enter signs, the pilot project installed new illuminated wrong-way signs with flashing red LED lights around their borders. These signs, installed approximately 600 feet from an exit ramp’s stop bar, were selected for testing because most incursions by wrong-way drivers occur at night. Set to activate when a thermal camera detects a wrong-way vehicle entering an exit ramp, the signs are designed to gain the attention of a wrong-way driver. The pilot project documented a significant number of drivers who self-corrected on a freeway exit ramp without entering I-17, some of whom may have been influenced by the sign-related countermeasures.

A recent report on ABC15 in Phoenix reported that the cameras have detected more than 300 wrong-way vehicles on I-17 since 2018. However, funding has not yet been found to expand the program.

Connecticut Rolling Out Wrong-Way Warning Tech in 2023

In October, the Connecticut Department of Transportation highlighted ongoing efforts to mitigate wrong-way driving crashes in the state at an event demonstrating the effectiveness of wrong way LED-flashing technology to stop a wrong-way driver. The flashing lights are triggered by a 360-degree camera that detects vehicles driving the wrong way on a highway ramp.

“This year has been by far the deadliest year in recent memory, with 22 wrong way fatalities occurring on the highways,” said CTDOT Commissioner Joe Giulietti. “In fact, 2022 exceeds the number of wrong-way fatalities from the previous three years combined.”

In July, the state approved $20 million in funding for wrong-way mitigation measures. CTDOT will launch a wrong-way detection pilot program at 16 high-risk ramp locations. Installation will start in 2023.

Oklahoma Pilot Includes Flashing-Light System

Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation started rolling out a $2.3 million pilot program to address wrong-way drivers. It includes improving signs and striping at four interchanges with confusing configurations, all along I-40 between Oklahoma City and the Arkansas state line. But in addition, it also is trying the method of detecting wrong-way drivers and warning them with flashing lights.

Radar and thermal sensors trigger bring, blinking LED warning signs when a driver enters a wrong-way zone. If a wrong-way driver doesn't turn around, an alert will be sent out automatically, to nearby law enforcement and to message signs warning other drivers.

Some wrong-way driver warning systems, such as this one in Florida, alert other drivers if the flashing warning lights don't prompt the wrong-way driver to turn around.  -  Photo: Florida DOT

Some wrong-way driver warning systems, such as this one in Florida, alert other drivers if the flashing warning lights don't prompt the wrong-way driver to turn around.

Photo: Florida DOT

Among other states testing similar wrong-way driver technology are Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Texas.

In my own scare last holiday season, the only fatality was the wrong-way driver herself. In so many wrong-way crashes, other people aren’t as lucky as we were. If we have the technology to put cameras in doorbells, surely we can use them to detect and hopefully stop wrong-way drivers before they kill someone.

What's your experience with one-way drivers? Share in the comments or email dlockridge@truckinginfo.com.

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Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

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Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology. 28 Jesse H. Neal honors.

View Bio
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