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Tue, Oct. 22

ADOT thermal cameras detect wrong-way freeway drivers

Arizona transportation officials are moving forward with a first-in-the-nation pilot program that will use thermal camera technology to curb the wrong-way driving problem plaguing the state. The wrong-way detection system will illuminate a sign that notifies the wrong-way driver, and immediately alert the state Department of Public Safety. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP)

Arizona transportation officials are moving forward with a first-in-the-nation pilot program that will use thermal camera technology to curb the wrong-way driving problem plaguing the state. The wrong-way detection system will illuminate a sign that notifies the wrong-way driver, and immediately alert the state Department of Public Safety. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP)

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This photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety shows a mangled car wreck along southbound Interstate 17, north of Black Canyon City, Arizona, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. Arizona Department of Transportation officials are testing a pilot program that will use thermal camera technology to curb wrong-way driving. (Arizona Department of Public Safety via AP)

With over 700 wrong-way drivers entering Arizona freeways in 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation has developed what may be a solution that detects the wayward vehicles quickly enough to warn other drivers and stop the wrong-way car.

It involves using thermal cameras to spot wrong-way vehicles on freeway off-ramps.

The concept, still in the testing stage in the Phoenix area, successfully alerted authorities to two recent overnight incidents along Loop 101 in the northwest Valley, a Department of Public Safety news release said.

Early Sunday, Sept. 10, a thermal camera being tested at the Loop 101 interchange at 75th Avenue detected a wrong-way vehicle entering the eastbound freeway. The detection triggered an alert to ADOT’s Traffic Operations Center, which activated warnings on overhead message boards, and to the DPS.

State Troopers found the vehicle stopped along the left shoulder of northbound 101 near Grand Avenue, and no crashes occurred.

Early Monday, Sept. 11, a thermal camera detected a vehicle apparently traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of Bell Road that then made a wrong-way turn to the northbound Loop 101 off-ramp. ADOT and DPS were again alerted to the detection. Video from the thermal camera shows the driver turning around at the top of the ramp and apparently returning to Bell Road.

State Troopers who responded didn’t locate the vehicle or driver. ADOT recently programmed existing thermal cameras used for traffic-signal sequencing at 11 freeway interchanges to test detection of vehicles entering off-ramps in the wrong direction. The testing is taking place while ADOT moves forward on the installation of a comprehensive pilot wrong-way vehicle detection and warning system along a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 in Phoenix.

The system, scheduled to be fully operational by early next year, also will use thermal cameras to detect wrong-way vehicles in an effort to reduce the risk of serious crashes.

In addition to thermal cameras, the I-17 prototype system will use warning signs for wrong-way drivers and advisories for right-way drivers. The system will automatically focus highway cameras on the wrong-way vehicle and send automated alerts to the Highway Patrol, helping troopers intercept vehicles faster.

On the I-17 ramps, wrong-way vehicles will trigger alerts, including illuminated signs with flashing lights, warning drivers to stop.

The system will also immediately warn other drivers through overhead message boards as well as law enforcement. Cameras in the area will automatically turn to face the wrong-way vehicle so traffic operators can better track it.

On the freeway, thermal cameras placed at one-mile intervals will signal when a wrong-way vehicle passes so State Troopers can plan their response and get out in front of the wrong-way driver, providing a faster response.

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