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Arizona's thermal camera-based wrong-way vehicle system wins national innovation award

The Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) pilot Interstate 17 wrong-way vehicle alert system that is currently being tested in the Phoenix area has been recognized with a Government Innovation Award from GCN, a public-sector information technology industry magazine.

The first-in-the-nation system is being tested on 15 miles (24km) of I-17 that uses thermal cameras to detect and track wrong-way vehicles while also immediately alerting ADOT and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

This can save troopers valuable time in responding to incidents rather than waiting for 911 calls from other motorists. The system also enables ADOT to quickly warn other drivers about wrong-way vehicles via messages on electronic freeway signs. The pilot project is allowing ADOT to evaluate how technology can be used to reduce the risks associated with wrong-way drivers before expanding it to other freeways.

So far, the thermal cameras have recorded more than 30 detections of wrong-way vehicles, mostly along I-17 off-ramps located within the project’s boundaries between the I-10 ‘Stack’ interchange near downtown and the Loop 101 interchange in north Phoenix. Most the drivers in those incidents have turned around on an off-ramp without entering the mainline lanes of I-17.

The system’s 90 FLIR thermal cameras are positioned to detect wrong-way vehicles entering off-ramps or traveling along I-17. Through the computerized decision-support system, the pilot project also is designed to trigger new illuminated wrong-way signs with flashing red lights aimed at getting the attention of the wrong-way driver. Although the technology cannot prevent all wrong-way crashes from happening, the project’s primary goal is reducing the risk of serious crashes by alerting AZDPS and ADOT to wrong-way vehicles much faster than waiting for 911 calls from other motorists.

Governor Doug Ducey has directed ADOT to advance efforts to develop wrong-way vehicle countermeasures, including the I-17 system, and has championed a new law that has wrong-way drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol face felony charges.

Ducey said, “This award recognizes the state’s commitment to public safety. Too frequently we see reports of another death on our highways due to a wrong-way driver, often one impaired by alcohol or drugs. Arizona has taken meaningful steps to crack down on wrong-way driving, and we are proud to lead the way among states for developing and testing measures that make our roads safer and protect innocent drivers.”

Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation, commented, “We are working alongside several other state agencies to explore every viable option when it comes to detecting and preventing wrong-way vehicles. While we know that no system can be designed to completely prevent wrong-way drivers, the I-17 system is a significant step forward in these efforts.”

Brent Cain, who leads ADOT’s transportation systems management and operations division, added, “This technology so far has shown great promise. With a commitment to helping every driver get home safely, our entire team has worked tirelessly to generate and research ideas and then design, implement and test this system.”

September 21, 2018

Written by Adam Frost

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