Officials discuss ways to prevent wrong-way wrecks

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona officials are trying to figure out how to curb wrong-way accidents on state highways after three such accidents killed seven people within a week.

In the most recent fatal head-on crash, two young adults from Mesa died early Sunday when a wrong-way driver struck their vehicle. On Friday, three people from Indonesia died in a wrong-way accident on Interstate 17 about 30 miles north of Phoenix. A May 12 wreck on a Tempe freeway ramp killed a wrong-way driver and an off-duty Mesa police officer.

The latest collision prompted the directors of the state Department of Public Safety, Department of Transportation and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to meet Sunday to review the accident and discuss strategies.

The agencies said in a joint statement they are focusing on enforcement, engineering and education and that removal of impaired drivers from the highways is the DPS' top priority.

The Department of Transportation might not have immediate engineering changes it can make, but it is looking at practices elsewhere in the country to identify any that should be adopted in Arizona, ADOT Director John Halikowski said.

ADOT previously lowered "wrong way" signs on freeway ramps to be closer to a driver's eye level and for the past two decades has used reflectors in freeway lanes that display red to wrong-way drivers.

Those killed in the accident early Sunday on the Loop 202 in Gilbert were Michael Ruquet, 25, and Ashley Adea, 20, the DPS said.

Patricia Murphy of Chandler, 68, drove the wrong-way pickup truck that collided with the vehicle driven by Ruquet, the DPS said. Murphy and her 9-year-old grandson were seriously injured, and the DPS said detectives are looking into whether the woman was impaired.

The three from Indonesia who died on Friday were in a minivan struck by a wrong-way driver. Three passengers, including a 9-year-old child, also suffered serious injuries.

Authorities believe the wrong-way driver, a Phoenix man in his 60s, was impaired. He also was injured and will likely face reckless driving charges, authorities said.

Authorities have said the wrong-way driver in the May 12 accident had a blood-alcohol limit three times the legal limit for drivers.

The agencies' statement said motorists should "expect the unexpected" on the road, not drive distracted and report all suspected impaired drivers immediately to law enforcement.

To help officers intercept a wrong-way driver, those calls should include good information on the vehicle, location and direction of travel, the statement said.

Phoenix area hit with third fatal wrong-way crash

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For Immediate Release: May 18, 2014
Governor’s Office of Highway Safety
Wrong-Way Drivers Focus of Emergency Meeting of State Highway Safety Officials

PHOENIX – The directors of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, convened an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to talk about the recent fatal wrong-way driver crashes on Arizona highways.

DPS Director Robert Halliday, ADOT Director John Halikowski and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Alberto Gutier, along with their executive staff members, reviewed the three recent fatal wrong-way collisions and discussed strategies for reducing these types of crashes in the future. The group focused on the “3 E’s” of highway safety: enforcement, engineering and education.

Enforcement: The Highway Patrol’s top priority is to remove impaired drivers from Arizona roadways. With the support of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, local and county police agencies, we will continue to remove DUI drivers from our roadways in order to reduce the occurrence of serious injury and/or fatal crashes on Arizona roadways.

The Highway Patrol will remain vigilant in its mission to protect human life and property by enforcing DUI and all other traffic laws. Distracted drivers also create a danger on the roadway and the Highway Patrol has been using existing state laws to combat distracted driving.

“Our mission is to protect the lives of people who travel on state highways, I take that very seriously,” said Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Robert Halliday. “I am personally overseeing DPS’ participation with ADOT and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in a collaborative effort to protect motorists on state highways.”

Engineering: ADOT affirmed its commitment to study freeway on- and off-ramp configuration and continue research into strategies to detect, communicate and intercept wrong-way drivers. Already, ADOT has lowered “wrong way” signs on freeway exit ramps to be more at a driver’ eye level and, since 1995, has installed red reflectors in freeway lanes to warn wrong-way drivers.

“While there might not be an immediate engineering-based strategy ADOT can implement, we are committed to researching national practices for detecting wrong-way drivers, communicating that information to law enforcement and other motorists, and trying to send a message to the wrong-way driver,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “We will assess our current methods and strategies and see what can be improved, as we look for feasible innovative solutions.”

Education: The agencies urge all drivers to talk with others about how, as a defensive driver, they would handle an encounter with a wrong-way driver. Tips for motorists include driving in the center and right lanes, especially during overnight hours when wrong-way drivers are more likely to be encountered. Motorists should also be good witnesses, making quick 911 calls when a wrong-way or impaired driver is observed and providing dispatchers with good information on the vehicle, location and direction of travel to assist officers with a quick intercept. Motorists should “expect the unexpected” when on the road, not drive distracted and report all suspected impaired drivers immediately to law enforcement.

“The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is committed to providing law enforcement with funding, equipment and training to deter and remove impaired drivers from our roads,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “I will continue to support the Highway Patrol, cities, towns and sheriff’s departments in their efforts to prevent injuries and fatalities on Arizona roadways.”

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, DPS and ADOT are currently working on revisions to the Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which emphasizes strategies to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes. Those strategies will address factors often associated with wrong-way drivers.