ADOT researching new technology that could prevent wrong-way crashes

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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Arizona Department of Transportation officials have installed more than 500 giant, lowered signs at off-ramps around the Valley, warning drivers of the wrong direction of entering a freeway. Now they're taking things a step further, with the help of new technology.

Looking at a scene of a horrific, head-on crash on a freeway, it's hard not to think 'what if' the driver going the right way, had some sort of warning to watch out for a car traveling the wrong direction. Can crashes like this be prevented?

It's that very question ADOT officials are asking themselves, as they work to decrease the number of wrong-way crashes, by exploring new technology, in the form of radar-based detectors.

"What we have to focus on is both detecting a wrong-way vehicle, how fast, and can we plug that potentially into a warning system," spokesman Doug Nintzel explained.

ADOT tested the detectors at two off-ramps along the loop 101 in the west Valley.

"We had an evening where we actually closed the ramps down. That way with the detectors installed the engineers were able to run some test vehicles in the wrong direction on those ramps, to see how those detectors work with some of our computer equipment," Nintzel said.

What they found, Nintzel said, is promising.

"The detector did pick up the vehicle going the wrong direction, and then that information was sent on to our staff at ADOT," he said.

Since it's impossible to entirely prevent someone from entering the freeway going the wrong direction, Nintzel says, an immediate warning system for any drivers who may be in harm's way, through the help of the freeway overhead signs, could be life-saving.

"ADOT would be warned about it, DPS would be warned about it, and then the potential is there for warning the drivers going the right direction on the freeway," Nintzel said.

While there's no clear answer about how to solve this problem, Nintzel says, detectors are another tool that could help.

The wrong-way detection and warning system technology is part of an ongoing study.

ADOT plans to test detectors from a few different companies over the summer at a variety of locations in the Valley before implementing any permanent changes.

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