The Florida Department of Transportation, which has seen a serious number of worng-way crashes statewide, began using a diverse set of tactics to reroute disoriented drivers in 2014, and law enforcement officials say that after a rough start to 2015, the efforts seem to be helping.
From 2010 to 2013, the area that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties recorded a total of 19 wrong-way crashes. That number spiked in 2014, when there were 12 such crashes, according to FDOT, including a crash on I-275 near Busch Boulevard that killed four University of South Florida students along with the driver who ran into them.
From January to July of 2015, this same area saw 14 wrong-way crashes. Since then, though, the numbers have dropped dramatically. “I haven’t (seen) a wrong-way fatal crash for a while,” said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.
The decrease comes as FDOT and law enforcement officials make progress on an array of technology, education and enforcement efforts designed to tackle the problem of wrong-way drivers. Starting in May of last year, transportation workers began painting car-sized red and blue interstate shields and other pavement markings, and installed wrong-way signs near 168 exit ramps throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties. The project cost $629,000.
The transportation department also is installing red-blinking sensors at three exits ramps and installing 18 pole-mounted microwave vehicle detectors along I-275 from the downtown interchange to north of the Bearss Avenue interchange. The most ambitious addition to FDOT’s wrong-way prevention arsenal is an experimental system that uses rapid-flashing sensors. The pole-mounted warning devices have been installed at six exit ramps associated with the I-275 interchanges at Fowler, Fletcher and Bearss avenues. The system includes surveillance cameras, solar panels and rapid-flashing red lights to tell drivers they are headed in the wrong direction. When a wrong-way driver is detected, an immediate alert is sent to the Florida Highway Patrol and to the local traffic management system. The associated cost is approximately $35,000 per exit ramp.