In Focus, episode 10: Arizona’s new detection system for wrong-way driving

A wrong-way driver, Keaton Allison, collided with another car on I-17 near Greenway on April 14, killing himself and sisters Karli and Kelsey Richardson, who were in the second car. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Dept. of Public Safety)

On this episode of In Focus, we discuss wrong-way driving and the new technology that the Arizona Department of Transportation is installing on the Interstate 17. Digital Producer Alexis Kuhbander speaks to someone who barely avoided a wrong-way collision, along with a public safety official and vehicle-detection system expert, who highlight the importance of the thermal enhancements.

The music in this episode is called “Wounds (Remix)” by Ketsa, used under Creative Commons.

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Melody Hendricks remembers following a Mustang down Interstate 10 around 5 a.m. for several miles, when the car suddenly started to break and pull over to the right. It was then when she noticed a small dark colored sedan driving toward her.

“My heart was racing, it was absolutely horrifying,” Hendricks said.

She quickly changed lanes to avoid colliding with the vehicle and dialed 911. Being close to a mile marker, she was able to provide law enforcement with details concerning the driver’s whereabouts.

“I just hope that either he had corrected himself or the cops had got him before he hurt anybody,” Hendricks said.

In 2017, 994 wrong-way incidents, one report less than this time last year, have been reported to law enforcement, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Out of the calls concerning a wrong-way driver in 2017, 23 collisions resulted in injury or death. In 2016, 15 injuries or deaths resulted from wrong way accidents.

Grand Canyon University student, Karli Richardson and her younger sister, Kelsey, were killed by a wrong-way driver the morning of Good Friday. The driver, Keaton Allison, another GCU student, had been driving for six miles the wrong way, according to an Arizona Department of Public Safety. He also died.

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner released new reports that show that Allison’s blood-alcohol level was .25, well above the .2 BAC level Arizona considers as a “super extreme” DUI charge.

According to Kameron Lee, trooper with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and research on wrong way driving, every two out of three accidents is a result from an impaired driver.

In light of the fatal crashes, the State Transportation Board approved a $3.7 million dollar project along 15 miles of Interstate 17, which the Arizona Department of Transportation has begun installing.

Ed Smaglik, civil engineering professor at Northern Arizona University, has studied vehicle detection systems like ADOT’s new thermal cameras.

According to Smaglik, the cameras have been successful in the past and can also be used at intersections and to count cars.

“The challenge with wrong-way driving is that you somehow need to get out to a driver that is very likely impaired,” said Smaglik. “When you are driving down the freeway sober you would see it and you’d react to it. An impaired driver may not respond in the same way.”

As a college professor, Smaglik reminds students they are not invincible.

“Realize that there are consequences to your actions,” Smaglik said.