Drive-thru small talk reinforces mission to make roads safer

Dynamic Message Sign - "Wrong-way driver ahead / Exit freeway"

Dynamic Message Sign - "Wrong-way driver ahead / Exit freeway"

By Doug Pacey / ADOT Communications

Tell someone you work at the Arizona Department of Transportation and you’re bound to hear a story or two or an earful about a personal experience with highways, the MVD or those weird safety messages. These anecdotes often come at the most unexpected times.

That was the case Friday morning when I stopped at a drive-thru coffee stand across the street from Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Making small talk with a young woman working there, she asked where I worked. When I told her, “ADOT,” her eyes widened and she excitedly told me how on her drive to work that morning on Interstate 17 she saw an overhead message board switch from displaying travel times to warning of an oncoming wrong-way driver. She’d never seen that before, she said, and immediately took the next exit where she saw a few police cruisers entering the highway.

We talked about the year-old thermal camera wrong-way detection system on I-17 and how it works, alerting law enforcement and other drivers to wrong-way vehicles. In fact, the system detected two wrong-way vehicles entering I-17 that morning. The first came at 3:15 a.m. at McDowell Road and the other at 4:29 a.m. at Dunlap Avenue. Both vehicles appeared to have self-corrected on the ramp before reaching the mainline.

She wondered, though, why so many other vehicles didn’t exit the highway when the message displayed. It’s a good question and conversations like this tell us a few things. First, we still have more work to do promoting the “Drive Aware, Get There” safety campaign geared toward helping people avoid wrong-way drivers. Second, the work we do to make highways safer affects every one of us, often when we least expect it. Know that we’ll continue to seek out countermeasures that will help reduce the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries that occur each year.