If you’ve spent any amount of time out on a highway or open roads, you’ve seen “wrong way” signs on the opposite side of the median, meant to alert drivers who are heading in the wrong direction. One would think it would be fairly obvious quickly to a driver if they’re traveling the wrong way, but unfortunately there are still many wrong-way accidents every year caused by factors such as drunkenness behind the wheel, inattentiveness or, in some cases, poor signage near onramps.
Those rectangular, red “wrong way” signs are useful—there’s a reason why these highway signs in Vermont are a fixture on highways in the state and across the nation. But as technology advances, municipalities are looking for ways to enhance the signage they have on the roads to make it even more obvious to drivers that they’re traveling in the wrong direction, and to get them to correct the issue before it becomes too late for them.
Innovation in Phoenix
Out in the deserts of the southwest, a new technology implemented in Phoenix will help alert not just wrong-way drivers, but the people they share the road with.
A brand new series of thermal cameras installed on more than 30 off-ramps and all along a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 in the area will immediately detect drivers who enter ramps going the wrong direction. As soon as these cameras pinpoint a wrong-way driver, the entire system will light up a large “wrong way” sign at eye level, complete with bright, flashing red LED lights. The system will track the driver’s progress and alert local law enforcement and highway officials, who can then also broadcast warnings of their own on highway message boards, turn entrance-ramp signals on freeways to red to keep additional drivers from flooding the freeway while a wrong-way driver is on the loose, and send alerts to other drivers on the highway who have downloaded a free app provided by the state’s Department of Transportation.
This is a revolutionary new technology, as it emphasizes alerting other drivers just as much as it does stopping the wrong-way driver. There are too many circumstances in which other drivers simply don’t have a chance at remaining safe because they had no idea a wrong-way driver was coming.
The goal with the technology is that the immediate “wrong way” alerts will help prevent wrong-way drivers from becoming a significant issue to begin with, but even if they continue on the freeway in the wrong direction, at least the other drivers will have some sort of warning about it.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 382 people died in wrong-way crashes in 2014, and that number has remained relatively consistent over the years, even as the overall incidence of car crash deaths has declined in the last decade. Most wrong-way drivers are under the influence of alcohol.