Of the 39,000 people who die in vehicle crashes every year in the United States, wrong-way drivers (WWD) account for 350 deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
However, WWD collisions generally result in severe injuries or fatalities. Because of the unusual nature of someone driving in the wrong direction, crashes are 40 times more likely to be fatal.
While many roadways have signs, reflective tape, LED lights, and pavement markings as countermeasures to WWDs, the drivers are often too intoxicated, confused, or suicidal to heed these warnings and deterrents. Also, poor weather conditions contribute to drivers accidentally driving in the wrong direction. A better solution to prevent WWD accidents is needed.
We’ll examine the different technologies available to prevent and decrease the number of crashes caused by a wrong-way driver. To reduce the fatality rate from WWDs, many states have adopted Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to alert and resolve wrong-way driving incidents.
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ITS Technologies to Prevent Wrong-Way Driver Crashes
In order to deter wrong-way drivers, several different ITS technologies can be implemented.
Sensor Detection System
There are several sensor detection technologies that states can use to determine if a driver is driving in the wrong direction:
- Microwave sensors
- Doppler radar
- Thermal sensors
- Video imaging
- Magnetic sensors
Of these sensor technologies, video imaging is the least reliable, but all could detect WWDs most of the time. Once the sensor detects the driver, it can trigger other alerts, warnings, and communication with the transportation center.
These sensors can be installed on existing poles near where drivers mistakenly drive the wrong way. Installation usually consists of a control box and sensor or camera.
Smart Warning Signs
Smart warning signs need to be set up in two warning locations on the entry area for highways, toll roads, or other high-speed roads. These warning signs should have:
- Wrong-Way signage
- Flashing Beacons that can activate a camera
- A camera to take a photo of the WWD
- Communication technology that will alert transportation management or the police of the WWD
Once the sensor is triggered, the smart warning signs will react to the WWD, alerting them that they are going in the wrong direction. The second sign confirms that there is a WWD and alerts the police.
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Alert Warning Communication
Once the sensor detector confirms a WWD, it can send the information to the transportation management center. The transportation management center can alert nearby drivers of the WWD through emergency alerts.
The alert warning communication can be sent to nearby drivers’ cell phones or their car’s navigation program for real-time communication about the imminent threat. And the transportation management center can send police to intercept the WWD.
If the WWD’s vehicle is equipped with a Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), the transportation management center can send the WWD an alert to their car’s display, notifying them that they are driving in the wrong direction. This communication can be text messages, audio warnings, or both.
If the driver doesn’t respond by turning around or pulling over to the side, the transportation management center can activate the WWD’s LKAS to steer the car over to the side of the road and stop the vehicle.
Benefits of ITS for Wrong-Way Drivers
Besides saving lives, there are many benefits to utilizing ITS technology to prevent wrong-way drivers. These ITS technologies do a better job of alerting and deterring WWDs from entering the wrong direction on freeways, highways, and other high-speed roads.
By successfully alerting WWDs of their mistake, 80% of WWDs corrected the mistake and exit without incident. This allows the police and highway patrol to respond and address other issues or problems.
Pew Research found that states who implemented wrong-way driver prevention technology were able to decrease their fatalities by almost half.
Where These Technologies Can Be Implemented
Whether or not to incorporate the ITS technologies to prevent crashes from wrong-way drivers is up to individual states. Many states utilize this technology in high-risk areas within their cities. The best places to implement ITS for wrong way alerts are:
- By exit ramps of highways, freeways, and toll roads
- Near high-speed roadways where signage can be confusing
- Areas that can experience bad weather conditions like fog and snow
- Near exits that are close to bars
False Positives and a Need for Redundant Technology
While ITS can significantly reduce the number of wrong-way crashes, it isn’t a perfect system. Research has found the need for redundant sensors to validate WWDs. When two different sensors are in place, the number of false detections decreases.
It’s important to verify every WWD because it takes personnel and resources to respond to WWDs. If a false positive is sent, this is a waste of police resources to validate that the reported WWD was false. A redundant sensor eliminates false positives.
Technologies to Prevent Crashes from Wrong-Way Drivers Saves Lives
ITS that prevent wrong-way drivers from entering a highway creates safer transportation for all. By implementing these different detection and alert technologies, states can save lives, money, and resources.
Although some of these detection systems can come at a hefty price. States will need to weigh the cost of installation with their number of crashes from WWDs.
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