There always seems to be a series of fatalities across the country on New Year’s Eve, caused by someone driving on a freeway traveling in the wrong direction. During 2012, Houston had several wrong way crashes that occurred back to back on I-45 near the Woodlands. In August 2012 alone, Atlanta had five fatalities that were linked to wrong way crashes. Over a five year span, Georgia has had over 100 people killed in similar accidents.
Notwithstanding increased signage to warn drivers that they are going the wrong way and other improved markings, people still get on the freeways headed in the wrong direction. Without a doubt, most of these collisions are caused by drunk drivers.
Following a wrong way triple fatality that happened in Houston, Texas on New Year’s Eve in 2008, the Harris County Toll Road Authority began to search for some way to solve the problem.
Its toll technology company, TransCore, had to start from scratch, since there was no model to follow. Whitt Hall, Vice President of TransCore, said that the company built a system to detect when cars were traveling the wrong way on exit ramps. The system uses speed radars to detect the location of someone entering the freeway on an exit ramp. This sends a warning to the toll authority’s command center, programmed cameras activate at the location and a dispatcher alerts an officer to respond immediately. Simultaneously, message boards are activated to warn drivers in the area of a wrong way driver and to move over and stop.
Assistant Chief Randy Johnson, who is with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, said that “we have told all of our officers not to chase a wrong way driver, but to get yourself in a position to deploy a spike strip.”
Costing $335,000 for an installation in 19 locations, the system is not cheap. However, the results are extremely impressive. Since it was installed four years ago, the 17 mile span has had 100 wrong way drivers without a single accident.
In order to resolve false alarms when it is raining hard or gusty winds blow objects the wrong way the toll authority is going to spend another $500,000 to install sensors in the pavement.
In addition to winning various awards, there has been much interest from Mexico, Columbia and China. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has spent $500,000 in San Antonio to utilize the same system by installing radar devices, message boards and flashing signs on the most dangerous freeway stretches.
For Atlanta, the cost to recreate Houston’s system on I-285 would be roughly $3 million. For now, they rely on drivers calling 911 to report a wrong way driver. Unfortunately, the time difference is deadly between a sensor advising of a wrong way driver and getting a 911 call.
Continue reading →