PHOENIX – It happens in an instant. An overhead message board flashes, “ALERT, WRONG-WAY DRIVER AHEAD.” Or headlights suddenly appear on your side of a divided roadway.
What you do before and during these and other situations involving wrong-way drivers, most of whom are impaired, can increase the chances of avoiding a potentially fatal collision.
At the direction of Governor Doug Ducey, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety are launching “Drive Aware, Get There,” a safety campaign aimed at helping drivers minimize the risk of being in a crash with a wrong-way vehicle.
“From the deployment of thermal camera detection technology to vigilant law enforcement efforts, Arizona is taking action to address wrong-way driving,” said Governor Ducey. “This public awareness effort will provide drivers with information to increase their safety when driving at night and understand what to do in the event of an encounter with a wrong-way driver.”
ADOT has taken several steps to curb wrong-way drivers, including installation of a first-in-the-nation wrong-way detection and warning prototype that uses thermal cameras.
“Safety is a top priority at ADOT and from an engineering standpoint we will do everything we can to make the state highway system the safest it can be,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “But engineering alone won’t solve the problem of wrong-way drivers. Stopping impaired driving is the most effective way to stop wrong-way drivers and we all have a responsibility to stop impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.”
“Drive Aware, Get There” shows what drivers can do to increase their safety when driving at night, what to do if a wrong-way vehicle is encountered and if an overhead sign warning of a wrong-way driver ahead is seen.
“My best advice: Have a plan,” said Col. Frank Milstead, Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. “Take a moment right now to think about what you would do if you saw a wrong-way car coming at you. When you see the headlights coming at you, the closing speed is so rapid you only have a split-second to react. Be vigilant and plan proactively so you won’t lose time if you find yourself in that situation.”
HOW TO DRIVE AT NIGHT
No matter the time of day, drivers should drive defensively. That means being constantly aware of driving conditions, your surroundings and anticipating dangers so you can take evasive action if you encounter a hazard, such as a wrong-way driver.
Don’t tailgate. Leave enough space so if the vehicle in front of you makes a sudden lane change to avoid a wrong-way driver, you’ll have time to react, too.
Be aware of your surroundings. While wrong-way drivers are often in the left or HOV lane, they enter highways from the right via off-ramps. Because they are often impaired, their movements are unpredictable.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ENCOUNTER A WRONG-WAY VEHICLE
If you’re on a divided highway – like I-17, SR 51, US 60 or any freeway in Phoenix and all interstates – and you see a vehicle coming toward you, slow down by easing your foot off the gas.
Make sure there’s no vehicle next to you and steer away from the wrong-way driver.
Get to a safe place, call 911 and report the wrong-way driver.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A SIGN WARNING OF A WRONG-WAY VEHICLE
When ADOT is alerted to a possible wrong-way driver, overhead messages boards on that stretch of freeway will display the message, “Alert, wrong-way driver ahead.”
If you see that message, safely move toward the nearest highway exit on the right side of the highway as soon as possible.
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
Have a plan in mind, so if you encounter a wrong-way driver you won’t waste a moment that could save your life.
Never drive distracted or impaired.
And never let an impaired driver get behind the wheel. Most wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers. It’s up to all of us to keep impaired drivers off our roads.
“Driving defensively and not distracted will help keep drivers safer,” said Alberto Gutier, Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “All of us – ADOT, DPS, GOHS and the people of Arizona – are in this together to stop impaired drivers from making our roads dangerous.”
ADOT is nearing completion of a pilot-project thermal detection system, which will detect wrong-way vehicles and alert others drivers and law enforcement of them on a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 in Phoenix. When the system detects a wrong-way vehicle, a flashing sign will illuminate on the off-ramp in an attempt to get the attention of the wrong-way driver. Additionally, the detection will automatically focus highway cameras on the wrong-way vehicle and send automated alerts to the Highway Patrol, helping troopers intercept the vehicle faster. The detection will also activate “wrong-way driver ahead” messages on overhead signs, giving motorists a chance to exit the freeway, and ramp meters will show a constant red signal, keeping motorists from entering the freeway.
Prior to construction of the detection system, ADOT installed hundreds of larger and lowered “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” signs on highway ramps. Also, white “right way” arrows were placed on off-ramps and glow bright red to a driver going wrong-way on the ramp.
More information on “Drive Aware, Get There” can be found at azdot.gov/wrongway.