Warning System Could Prevent More Wrong-Way Deaths

People driving the wrong way on I-45 are accused of causing two deadly crashes in Montgomery County over the weekend. Those accidents left a total of five people dead and police believe alcohol was involved. Gail Delaughter looks at whether new technology could have prevented those wrecks.

Right now Houston only has one freeway with a system that detects when someone is driving the wrong way. That's the Westpark Tollway. Assistant Chief Randy Johnson with Constable's Precinct 5 says there are sensors on overhead signs and in the pavement to alert dispatchers to wrong way drivers. Deputies are immediately sent to the scene.

"If there is a wrong-way driver, if it's verified, the message of the wrong way driver is put on the DMS, the dynamic message signs along the toll road that say 'Warning, wrong way driver ahead.' Then it goes to page 2 and says 'All motorists pull to the shoulder and stop.'"

And Johnson says they've taken a lot of drunk drivers off the road since they started using the system in 2008.

"We have not had an accident other than a minor where two vehicles, their mirrors hit. But it's proven to be very much worthwhile."

Wrong-way technology is now being installed near downtown San Antonio and it's also used by the North Texas Tollway Authority. But what about installing the systems on more freeways? Stuart Corder with TXDot in Houston says they are studying the issue and one thing they're looking at is cost. Corder says a tollway has limited on-ramps, but you'd have to install many more sensors on a major freeway like I-45.

"And what we're seeing is probably five to ten thousand dollars a site. And so when you consider the number of ramps in our urban area here you could easily get up to over a million dollars to implement them on a widespread basis. And then you'd have maintenance costs. So it's something we want to look at real close."

But even with the technology, authorities says night-time drivers have to stay alert because one of the challenges is actually stopping the wrong-way vehicle after it's spotted. Scott Cooner is with the Texas Transportation Institute.

"If you're out driving late at night, the best information I can give you is stay out of the left lane. That's where the majority of wrong-way crashes occur."

TXDot meanwhile says it's checking the scenes of the I-45 crashes, to make sure all signage is in place alerting drivers they're going the wrong way.

Gail Delaughter KUHF News.

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...