UDOT using detection and alert system to prevent wrong-way driver crashes

Mar 21, 2024, 5:58 PM | Updated: 6:46 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday morning’s deadly crash on Interstate 15 has many Utah drivers worried they’ll encounter a wrong-way driver on the road.

Utah Department of Transportation already has new technology in place designed to prevent these crashes in the first place.

UDOT spokesperson John Gleason said these wrong-way crashes are happening more often, and it’s something they’re looking into.

“It’s something that we’re looking at,” he said. “We saw more of them happening over the last several years with the pandemic. And, you know, there’s a lot that goes into studying driving behavior over the last few years.”

He said five fatalities have been caused by wrong-way crashes so far in 2024. Last year, 18 wrong-way crashes led to seven deaths, and in 2022, 10 people died from eight wrong-way crashes.

Gleason said they’re using technology to help stop this.

The state installed new detection and alert systems in 2023. Twenty-one are currently installed, and UDOT plans to install two more.

“You’ll have two signs, one at the bottom of the ramp that lights up and flashes ‘Wrong Way,’ and then if they pass that and don’t make any corrective action, the next one before they enter the freeway will also start to flash,” Gleason said.

LED lights will blink at the driver if the radar and HD/infrared cameras detect they’re going the wrong way.

“If a wrong-way driver is detected, that will instantly alert our operators at the traffic operations center,” Gleason said.

Road signs will warn drivers within a 10-mile radius to use caution.

“If a driver does get past the signs and continues the wrong way on the freeway, they’re driving freeway speeds, it doesn’t take long for them to encounter other vehicles,” he said.

Gleason said tire spikes are not an option they’re considering.

“Law enforcement uses the ramp in different ways, and a lot of times the wrong way drivers, most of the time, will recognize their mistake and they’ll turn around,” he said. “If that happens and they pop out their tires, then you have another problem there.”

He said, unfortunately, nothing will prevent every wrong-way crash.

“If it’s an intentional crash or if someone is drinking or using drugs, unfortunately, we can’t engineer against terrible decisions,” Gleason said.

He said they do have promising data on this new system.

“We had a test system in place at Park Lane in Farmington for about six months, and we saw very encouraging results,” Gleason said. “When drivers would enter in the wrong direction, they would see the feedback sign and they would instantly make that correction before they headed out onto the freeway.”

Gleason said UDOT’s detection and alert system did not detect the driver involved in Thursday’s crash.

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UDOT using detection and alert system to prevent wrong-way driver crashes