The Arizona Department of Transportation is testing thermal cameras as a way to detect wrong-way drivers, and the agency said it has already had success.
The system spotted two recent wrong-way drivers along the Loop 101 Agua Fria Freeway in the northwest Valley during the last two days.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Wrong-way drivers in Arizona]
According to ADOT, a thermal camera being tested at the Loop 101 and 75th Avenue detected an eastbound driver, later identified as 56-year-old Pierre Kabanda, going onto the freeway using the exit ramp early Sunday morning. The camera alerted ADOT's Traffic Operations Center, which triggered warnings on overhead message boards and alerted the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Troopers were able to stop the driver on the 101 near Grand Avenue. Kabanda faces two counts of endangerment and one count of DUI.
"With lights and siren activated, a patrol trooper was able to position her vehicle in a way to successfully get the vehicle to move to the shoulder of the road. After an investigation, the driver was arrested on suspicion of DUI," said DPS Public Information Officer Kameron Lee.
Early Monday morning, a driver was heading west in the eastbound lanes of Bell Road and then made a wrong-way turn to the northbound Loop 101 off-ramp, ADOT said. A thermal camera detected this and ADOT and DPS were alerted. The driver self-corrected before officers arrived and returned to Bell Road. That driver wasn't found.
Although ADOT's work to develop a wrong-way detection system has been widely reported, the thermal cameras used to spot these two latest wrong-ways are part of a batch the agency had not publicly acknowledged before Monday.
While working on the crown jewel of the wrong-way detection pilot program -- a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 17 -- ADOT realized it already had thermal cameras installed at 11 interchanges that were capable of wrong-way detection, spokesman Doug Nintzel said.I-10 at 75th Ave (EB and WB) I-10 at 91st Ave (WB only) Loop 101 at 59th Ave (EB and WB) Loop 101 at 75th Ave (EB and WB) Loop 101 at Bell Road (NB and SB) I-17 at 19th Ave near Durango Curve (NB and SB)
These cameras, which cost about $4,000 each, had been installed a year or more ago for signal-timing purposes, he said. The agency upgraded the software to include wrong-way detection over the past few months, he said.
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ADOT learned more about the capabilities of its cameras while working on a $3.7 million project to install detection equipment along Interstate 17, from Interstate 10 to Loop 101 in Phoenix, Nintzel said. Once the project is complete early next year, there will be dozens of thermal cameras along this route, he said.
The I-17 project will include other advanced features. Once cameras detect a wrong-way driver at the exit ramp, the system will activate an illuminated wrong-way sign with flashing lights to try to get the wrong-way driver's attention. Overhead message boards will also be activated to alert drivers traveling the right way of the possible danger.
Cameras in the area will also automatically turn to face the wrong-way driver so traffic operators can track it better, ADOT said.
“The I-17 pilot system will speed notification, but it can't prevent wrong-way driving, which in most cases involves impaired drivers," ADOT has previously said.
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