Wrong Way Drivers Focus of Emergency Meeting of State Highway Safety Officials

PHOENIX – The directors of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, convened an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to talk about the recent fatal wrong-way driver crashes on Arizona highways.

DPS Director Robert Halliday, ADOT Director John Halikowski and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Director Alberto Gutier, along with their executive staff members, reviewed the three recent fatal wrong-way collisions and discussed strategies for reducing these types of crashes in the future. The group focused on the “3 E’s” of highway safety: enforcement, engineering and education.

Enforcement: The Highway Patrol’s top priority is to remove impaired drivers from Arizona roadways. With the support of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, local and county police agencies, we will continue to remove DUI drivers from our roadways in order to reduce the occurrence of serious injury and/or fatal crashes on Arizona roadways.

The Highway Patrol will remain vigilant in its mission to protect human life and property by enforcing DUI and all other traffic laws. Distracted drivers also create a danger on the roadway and the Highway Patrol has been using existing state laws to combat distracted driving.

“Our mission is to protect the lives of people who travel on state highways, I take that very seriously,” said Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Robert Halliday. “I am personally overseeing DPS’ participation with ADOT and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in a collaborative effort to protect motorists on state highways.”

Engineering: ADOT affirmed its commitment to study freeway on- and off-ramp configuration and continue research into strategies to detect, communicate and intercept wrong-way drivers. Already, ADOT has lowered “wrong way” signs on freeway exit ramps to be more at a driver’ eye level and, since 1995, has installed red reflectors in freeway lanes to warn wrong-way drivers.

“While there might not be an immediate engineering-based strategy ADOT can implement, we are committed to researching national practices for detecting wrong-way drivers, communicating that information to law enforcement and other motorists, and trying to send a message to the wrong-way driver,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “We will assess our current methods and strategies and see what can be improved, as we look for feasible innovative solutions.”

Education: The agencies urge all drivers to talk with others about how, as a defensive driver, they would handle an encounter with a wrong-way driver. Tips for motorists include driving in the center and right lanes, especially during overnight hours when wrong-way drivers are more likely to be encountered. Motorists should also be good witnesses, making quick 911 calls when a wrong-way or impaired driver is observed and providing dispatchers with good information on the vehicle, location and direction of travel to assist officers with a quick intercept. Motorists should “expect the unexpected” when on the road, not drive distracted and report all suspected impaired drivers immediately to law enforcement.

“The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety is committed to providing law enforcement with funding, equipment and training to deter and remove impaired drivers from our roads,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “I will continue to support the Highway Patrol, cities, towns and sheriff’s departments in their efforts to prevent injuries and fatalities on Arizona roadways.”

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, DPS and ADOT are currently working on revisions to the Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which emphasizes strategies to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes. Those strategies will address factors often associated with wrong-way drivers.