Seven wrong-way crashes on Arizona freeways in 2017

A wrong-way driver collided with another car on I-17 near Greenway on April 14, killing three people. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Dept. of Public Safety)

PHOENIX –Early Friday morning, a wrong-way crash on Interstate 17 near Greenway Road killed three people.

It was the seventh wrong-way accident with injuries or fatalities in 2017, according to Kameron Lee, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The wrong way driver, a 22-year-old man, drove south in the northbound lanes at about 2:30 a.m. before crashing into the other car, according to DPS. Grand Canyon University released a statement that two students were killed in the crash; the wrong-way driver as well as one of the people in the car he hit.

“It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17. As a close-knit community of students, faculty and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”

National statistics show 31 percent of wrong-way crashes occur between midnight and 3 a.m. and drivers often mistakenly enter an exit ramp instead of an entrance ramp. This year’s Valley numbers are close to 2016, according to DPS.

The Arizona Department of Transportation said it has taken steps to reduce the risk of wrong-way drivers. ADOT has installed larger “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” signs along exit ramps at six freeway interchanges. The signs have been lowered on posts to test if that could help in alerting confused or impaired wrong-way drivers.

In addition to the newer and larger signs, ADOT has added pavement markers shaped as arrows pointing the right way along exit ramps. The markers have red reflectors to warn drivers going the wrong way on the ramps.

ADOT is in the final stages of a wrong-way detection pilot project for I-17 in Phoenix to alert motorists, state troopers and other emergency responders when a driver is going the wrong way. The system will include separate wrong-way vehicle detectors on freeway on-ramps as well as warnings on overhead message boards for drivers going the right way. Ramp meters will display a solid red light to keep traffic from entering the freeway when a wrong-way vehicle is detected.

Alberto Gutier, director of Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said the public has to do its part as well.

“People are paying attention to a lot of other things and not focusing on driving. Driving is a privilege,” Gutier said. “People need to drive defensively and defensively means know your surroundings.”