TRAFFIC SAFETY: Caltrans deploys new lights, cameras to try to stop wrong-way freeway drivers

Feb. 6, 2017

The California Department of Transportation is using Sacramento and San Diego to test a variety of tools aimed at getting the attention of drivers if they enter a freeway going the wrong direction

Highway officials have loaded up a handful of freeway ramps in Sacramento and San Diego with blinking lights, 6-ft-tall “Wrong Way” signs, red pavement reflectors and cameras warning drivers they’re about to hit the freeway in the wrong direction.

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials said the test program was prompted by nine wrong-way fatal crashes in those two areas of the state in 2015 that made headlines and alarmed drivers.

Four of them occurred in Sacramento, leaving 14 people dead in five months. All four involved intoxicated wrong-way drivers traveling at night. In San Diego, five such crashes left eight people dead.

Caltrans said it chose 17 ramps on Sacramento’s Highway 50, I-80 and I-5 as test areas because many people drive there between Tahoe and the Bay Area and are unfamiliar with the local ramp system.

The state has replaced a variety of markers, signs, cameras and radar equipment at the off-ramps.

The agency has placed reflective red raised pavement markers on the ramps, signaling drivers they are going in the wrong direction. The state has doubled “Wrong Way Do Not Enter” signs on some ramps, putting one set at the bottom of a ramp and another further up. Some of the signs include flashing lights that illuminate when a wrong-vehicle is detected.

On other ramps, the state plans to install cameras and messaging equipment that will photograph wrong-way vehicles and alert CHP and Caltrans dispatch centers so that CHP officers can intercept the vehicles more quickly.