Scottsdale company teaches motorists to avoid wrong-way drivers

SCOTTSDALE – Business owners in Scottsdale horrified by a string of wrong-way collisions in Arizona have developed new technology designed to help motorists stay safe.

Nearly 80 people have been injured and 14 people killed in wrong-way crashes this year, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Maria Wojtczak, owner of Driving MBA in Scottsdale, said she and her husband, Richard, created a wrong-way simulation to prevent tragedies like two sisters killed on a Valley freeway in April.

“We introduce them to a lifetime of horrible events that could potentially happen out there,” Maria Wojtczak said. “Hopefully, they will never encounter them.”

She said many drivers, faced with the prospect of a car hurtling toward them on a freeway, react in a panic.  

“Their immediate reaction is to stop and in most cases putting your foot on the brake is the wrong answer,” Maria Wojtczak said.

“What you want to do is lightly tap your brakes to let drivers behind you know you’re about to pull over and stop,” she said. “When the coast is clear, pull to the furthest right hand lane, turn off your engine, keep your lights on and immediately call 911.”

Avoiding wrong-way drivers

Richard Wojtczak, a former software specialist for Ford who designed the wrong-way simulation, said drivers need to listen closely to traffic around them. For every minute or mile driven, a driver should check the rearview mirror and look to their left and right for a minimum of three seconds.

“It’s eye movement and eye lead time. How much you are looking out and how much you are looking around you,” Maria Wojtczak said. “It’s an actual way in which to scan your environment.”

Wrong-way simulation

Richard Wojtczak, a former software developer, created a simulation to help motorists learn how to avoid and respond safely to wrong-way drivers. (Photo by April Morganroth/Cronkite News)

Kameron Lee, a DPS spokesman, said drivers should avoid driving in the carpool lane, especially at night.  

“Statistics have shown and studies have shown that wrong-way drivers tend to stay on what they believe is the right-hand side, so as they are driving the wrong-way they are actually driving generally in the HOV lane,” Lee said.

New road technology

The state launched a wrong-way driving detection system after sisters Karli Richardson, 20, and Kelsey Richardson, 18, were killed on Interstate 17 near Greenway Road in April. Law enforcement officials said Keaton Allison, 21, was driving a car the wrong way on the freeway that collided with the sisters’ car. Allison was also killed.

The most recent wrong-way crash, in early September, injured seven people, including four children.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is installing freeway sensors to detect wrong-way drivers. The sensors prevented three wrong-way drivers from getting onto Phoenix-area freeways just last weekend, ADOT officials said in a news release.

The agency also has lowered signs on Arizona highways and made the signs larger and brighter.