New DPS director addresses problem of wrong-way drivers

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Families of those killed by wrong-way drivers are calling on state lawmakers to make roadways safer.

"Why don't you spend the money and fix the problem?” one family member said. “Get sensors on the freeways, do something proactive. Something is better than nothing."

In a brand new interview, the new director of the Department of Public Safety said there doesn't seem to be one easy fix. DPS is short highway patrol officers, but more officers on the highway is no guarantee of stopping wrong-way drivers.

The latest case was that of Stephanie Zander who allegedly drove 11 miles going the wrong way early Friday morning. It took time to get in position but highway patrol officers finally stopped her.

“The 22-year-old female we stopped at rural and 60 last week, just in the nick of time, literally two feet from the highway patrol car,” said DPS Director Frank Milstead. “She had a blood alcohol content over .20.”

Milstead said wrong-way drivers continue to be problem that isn't easily solved.

“ADOT's challenge is how do you engineer for the impaired?” he said. “Very difficult when you're completely oblivious.”

DPS is working with the Arizona Department of Transportation and Governor's Office of Highway Safety, studying each incident to determine if changing a sign, a light or a law would make any difference.

“We look at how we try to stop the vehicle with the use of stop-sticks, police cars and lights,” Milstead said. “We don't travel the wrong direction on the freeway after people because then you end up having two collisions.”

Milstead is the former chief of police for Mesa. He said they found at least half of impaired drivers are on something other than alcohol. There is no way to predict when they will make that wrong turn onto a highway, and he warns late night drivers to stay vigilant.

“The majority of those wrong-way drivers are in the HOV lane or high-speed lane,” he said.

Milstead said his officers will continue to refine how they react to this problem. But he said sober drivers need to stay to the right if they are on the road late at night and get out of the way in these cases.