Transportation Safety

Wrong-Way Drivers

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Arizona highways safely move hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day. When crashes do occur, research shows that more than 90 percent of the time, the collision is the result of driver behavior – actions like speeding, reckless or distracted driving, or driving while impaired. Wrong-way crashes fit this pattern.

ADOT has taken extensive steps to address the threat of wrong-way drivers, including installation of a first-of-its-kind thermal camera detection system pilot project on I-17. Additionally, larger and lowered “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” signs have been installed on hundreds of freeway ramps and overpasses in Phoenix and rural state highways.

These measures can reduce risk, but can’t prevent wrong-way driving. Two out of three wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers and often these drivers have blood-alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. This public safety issue will not be solved by only engineering and enforcement. We all need to work to keep impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel.

The “Drive Aware, Get There” safety campaign aims to help motorists minimize the risk of being in a crash with a wrong-way vehicle. The campaign details what drivers should do if they encounter a wrong-way vehicle, see an overhead sign warning of an oncoming wrong-way vehicle and general tips that will keep drivers safer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ADOT doing to stop wrong-way drivers?

In Fall 2017, installation began on a first-of-its-kind  camera detection system on I-17 in Phoenix. Prior to that, ADOT’s efforts include installing hundreds of larger and lowered “Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” signs, as well large, white “right way” arrows on off-ramps with reflectors that glow bright red when a vehicle is traveling the wrong way. Ultimately, engineering, along with enforcement, can be only one part of the response to wrong-way driving because this is first and foremost a driver behavior issue.

What can I do to stop wrong-way drivers?

The majority of wrong-way drivers are drunk or otherwise impaired. The No. 1 way to stop wrong-way crashes is to stop impaired drivers from getting behind the wheel. This public safety issue will not be solved by only engineering and enforcement – we need everyone working to keep impaired persons from driving.

Tell me about the thermal camera detection system being installed on I-17.

After an extensive review of components, ADOT began installation of a wrong-way detection and warning system in August along Interstate 17 between I-10 and Loop 101 in Phoenix. The pilot project’s goal is to reduce the risk from wrong-way incidents by significantly improving the timeliness and accuracy of information available to law enforcement, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, compared to responding officers relying on information relayed by 911 callers.

The pilot system is being designed to detect, alert and track wrong-way drivers. Here’s how the system will work:

  • It will combine detection systems at freeway exit ramps, on the freeway and on freeway-to-freeway ramps to alert law enforcement and ADOT traffic operators and keep them apprised of the vehicle’s location.
  • At exit ramps, flashing LED warning signs will attempt to get the wrong-way driver to self-correct, while the system will activate alerts on overhead message boards and automatically turn traffic cameras toward the wrong-way vehicle to help ADOT operators track it.
  • Thermal sensor cameras will be used to detect the wrong-way vehicle on the mainline freeway and update its location for law enforcement officers and traffic operators.

Can spike strips, like the ones used in parking lots, be installed on freeway ramps?

ADOT is exploring everything we can to protect the public, starting with the detection and warning prototype coming to I-17. We know of no state that has used spike strips, and studies by Texas and California found spike strips wouldn't hold up to freeway ramp speeds and volume. However, we aren't ruling out any possibility, and are continually looking for viable options.

When do wrong-way crashes occur?

Because most wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers, it’s not surprising that 3 out of 4 wrong-way crashes occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and one-third of wrong-way crashes happen between midnight and 3 a.m. More than half of wrong-way crashes occur on weekends.

What should I do if I encounter a wrong-way driver?

If you’re on a divided highway – like I-17, SR 51, US 60 or any freeway in Phoenix and all interstates – and you see a vehicle coming toward you, slow down by easing your foot off the gas. Make sure there’s no vehicle next to you and steer away from the wrong-way driver. Get to a safe place, call 911 and report the wrong-way driver.

What should I do if I see an overhead sign warning of a wrong-way driver ahead?

When ADOT is alerted to a possible wrong-way driver, overhead messages boards on that stretch of freeway will display a message that informs motorists a wrong-way vehicle has been reported. If you see that message, safely move toward the nearest highway exit as soon as possible. 

What else should I know about how to be safer on the roads?

Because there’s a good chance the wrong-way driver is impaired, they can also be unpredictable. This is why it is important to always drive defensively. That means being constantly aware of driving conditions, your surroundings and anticipating dangers so you can take evasive action if you encounter a hazard, such as a wrong-way driver.  Don’t tailgate. Leave enough space so if the vehicle in front of you makes a sudden lane change to avoid a wrong-way driver, you’ll have time to react, too. Be aware of your surroundings. While wrong-way drivers are usually in the left or HOV lane, they enter highways from the right via off-ramps. And always wear a seat belt.

Do you have comments, questions or suggestions about wrong-way drivers?

Visit our Contact ADOT webpage. When filling out the online form, please select “Wrong-Way Drivers” from the dropdown menu.

The Arizona Ombudsman – Citizens Aide helps you resolve ongoing issues with State Agencies.

Civil Rights

Pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ADOT does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex, or disability. Persons that require a reasonable accommodation based on language or disability should contact ADOT’s Civil Rights Office at civilrightsoffice@azdot.gov. Requests should be made as early as possible to ensure the State has an opportunity to address the accommodation.

De acuerdo con el título VI de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964 y la Ley de Estadounidenses con Discapacidades (ADA por sus siglas en inglés), el Departamento de Transporte de Arizona (ADOT por sus siglas en inglés) no discrimina por raza, color, nacionalidad, edad, género o discapacidad. Personas que requieren asistencia (dentro de lo razonable) ya sea por el idioma o por discapacidad deben ponerse en contacto con la Oficina de Derechos Civiles en civilrightsoffice@azdot.gov. Las solicitudes deben hacerse lo más pronto posible para asegurar que el equipo encargado del proyecto tenga la oportunidad de hacer los arreglos necesarios.