PHOENIX - The state of Arizona is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to preventing wrong-way crashes.
Arizona Department of Transportation engineers are testing a first-in-the-nation detection system using thermal cameras to immediately alert drivers and Department of Public Safety when a vehicle enters the freeway driving the wrong way.
When a wrong-way driver enters a freeway ramp, the detection system will trigger alerts including illuminated signs with flashing lights.
The project, recently approved by the state, will cost an estimated 3.7 million dollars and will be tested on a 15-mile stretch of the I-17 between I-10 and loop 101 starting this fall.
These cameras will be able to to alert the DPS and other drivers immediately instead of waiting for someone to call 9-1-1.
Typically, calling 9-1-1 is how law enforcement finds out about these dangerous drivers before triggering a response system.
"Here it's not going to be a 9-1-1 call. It's as soon as the driver enters we are going to let law enforcement know," ADOT Deputy Engineer Jim Windsor said.
"Is it going to stop all crashes, probably not, but anytime we can gain time, to mitigate and stop that wrong-way driver. That's important," Windsor said.
The idea is to create an alert of the wrong-way driver immediately with a camera on the off-ramp. Then, a camera in the median will track that vehicle so DPS can intercept.
"We know Texas does something similar but they use radar, so this will be the first of its kind using thermal cameras," Windsor said.
A first step toward hopefully ending a deadly issue on our roads by taking the calls out of the equation.
A lot of these cameras are already in place and being used to detect traffic volume and trigger the red-green light system on some valley on-ramps. It's the same type of technology, just being used for a different reason.
The system is scheduled to be installed by the fall, but a directive from the governor has engineers trying to break ground even sooner. Construction is expected to take roughly seven months to complete.
If this is successful, the Thermal Detection System could be installed on other freeways in the Valley.