Georgia considering methods to detect wrong-way drivers

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ATLANTA — After a series of violent wrong-way collisions in metro Atlanta last year, Georgia highway engineers are monitoring results of a new radar system in Texas designed to detect wrong-way drivers and alert police.

The Georgia Department of Trans­portation is awaiting results of the study in Texas, where several interchanges have been equipped with sensors to detect wrong-way drivers and alert authorities, Georgia DOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg said.

Similar technology is being deployed in the Milwaukee area. Other states have explored the idea of tying detection systems to the large overhead signs on highways, so they could flash warning messages to drivers when a car is barreling toward them, authorities said.

States have identified effective measures to counter wrong-way driving, but there is limited federal guidance on using proved strategies to prevent it, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a December report.

The NTSB found that, on average, 360 lives are lost each year in wrong-way collisions. More than 80 percent of deadly wrong-way collisions involve head-on crashes at high speeds. About 60 percent of the crashes involve alcohol, according to the NTSB’s report.

“A lot of these involve alcohol, so we think the focus should be on alcohol enforcement as the best way to deal with the larger problem,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In Georgia, there were 11 deaths resulting from wrong-way drivers in the Atlanta metro area from 2007 to 2011, Goldberg said. A December incident in Augusta involving a wrong-way driver on River Watch Parkway put six people in the hospital.

Before Georgia installs any new technology, Goldberg said the state would likely do an analysis to determine where wrong-way crashes are most likely to occur.

Nationwide, the NTSB analyzed data from 1,566 fatal wrong-way crashes. It found that progress is being made to equip vehicles with technology that alerts drivers if they are heading the wrong way.

The Nissan Motor Co. has joined with a Japanese expressway operator to develop a system involving GPS data and a car’s navigational system to alert drivers when the vehicle is going the wrong way on ramps and interchanges. In 2011, Toyota announced that it would offer an optional wrong-way alert system on vehicles sold in Japan, according to the NTSB’s report.

Toyota has indicated that it will be offering the system in the future in the U.S., the agency said.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke ordered an analysis of wrong-way drivers after several horrific crashes, authorities there said. The agency’s patrol division identified ramps that were problem areas, and the state’s transportation department agreed to do a test project based on the sheriff’s proposal.

The system being put in place in the Milwaukee area involves motion detectors, which sense when a vehicle begins driving the wrong way on a freeway ramp. When a “breach” is detected, a traffic operations center and sheriff’s dispatchers are notified.

“It’s installed but in a testing phase right now,” said Fran McLaughlin, a spokeswoman with the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department. Some adjustments are being made before the system is fully deployed, she said.


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