Watching the daily news, residents are well aware that wrong-way driving is a serious problem in Arizona.
This week alone, the recent string of wrong-way crashes has heighted the frequency awareness. Sadly these reports have equated to a growing trend throughout 2019.
Since Jan. 1, according to numbers from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, there have been 1,175 wrong-way occurrences in the state. Compared to August 2018, there were 1,057 incidents.
Wrong way driving is mostly a social issue.
“The biggest issue we have with wrong-way driving is people impaired,” Alberto Gutier, said director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “That’s why we see the numbers continue to go up.”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has been vocal on the subject, calling for action. Gov. Ducey signed HB 2243 on March 27, which makes wrong-way driving on the highways while impaired a felony. Ducey said there have been too many accidents involving wrong-way drivers, and it mostly comes back to cases of impairment by drugs or alcohol.
“You’d think it was obvious by now, but to anyone out there who hasn’t gotten the memo: booze, drugs and driving don’t mix,” Ducey said. “Your actions are beyond foolish- they are lethal, and we will not tolerate it.”
Even after the efforts from ADOT with additional wrong way signs posted, thermal cameras and tougher legislation, highways across the state have seen an increasing number of wrong-way incidents, including many of which have resulted in fatalities.
Since July 17 alone, there have been almost 150 wrong-way incidents. The wrong-way DUI arrests so far this year has almost doubled the 2017 mark.
What Arizona is doing to solve the problem?
The state officials are hoping that the measures that have been taken continue to combat the issue. However, Gutier suggests that drivers must remain alert in the late evening and early morning hours when traveling on Arizona freeways.
“Stay to the right, away from the HOV lane,” Gutier said. ” Be proactive in how you drive.”
“DPS has the squads on night-watch that actually are out there, not only looking at wrong-way driving but to enforce the law itself… to prevent those kinds of incidents from turning deadly,” Gutier explained.
Gutier said Arizona has been watching other states, like Texas and Florida, to see how those states deal with wrong-way crash problems. Arizona seems to be leading the way when it comes to technology, such as the thermal wrong-way detection cameras that have been installed in a pilot program on the I-17.
ADOT installed 90 thermal cameras on the I-17 between the I-10 “stack” to the Loop 101 interchange. Since the operation of the cameras in January 2018, the cameras have detected more than 70 wrong-way vehicles. The cost was $4 million to initiate the program.
ADOT is looking to add cameras to additional freeways in the valley, including the new Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. Plans for the additional set up of camera systems is unknown.
“Again, that’s an ADOT question,” Gutier said. “But, I’ll tell you: costs are prohibited. It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of miles.”
ADOT is still working to complete their evaluation of the camera pilot program. The department hopes to finish the report before the end of 2019.
This public safety issue will not be solved by only technology and enforcement. We all need to work to keep impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.