New tech aims to stop wrong-way drivers in their tracks

The system consists of a motion sensor at the end of a highway exit ramp triggering flashing red lights to alert drivers


By Abigail Brone
The Hour

NORWALK, Conn. — The state Department of Transportation is employing new technology, developed in-house, to combat wrong-way driving, which has caused nearly two dozen deaths in the state this year.

To demonstrate the new technology, which consists of a motion sensor at the end of a highway exit ramp triggering flashing red lights to alert the driver, DOT halted traffic on the off-ramp of Exit 32 on Interstate-84 leading to Queen Street in Southington last week.

The demonstration involved a state DOT employee driving the wrong way up the exit ramp several times, causing the bright red lights to flash until the car retreated from the ramp. The sensor hovers from the stoplight over the opening of the exit ramp on Queen Street.

In July, the State Bond Commission approved $20 million in funding for wrong-way mitigation measures around the state, according to a DOT statement.

In addition to the light alerts, the state is implementing other mitigation strategies, including pavement markings and reflective strips along guardrails, DOT spokesperson Josh Morgan said.

"Those other measures are being investigated/researched right now," Morgan said. "Given we are heading into the cold and snow season, anything we put on the guide rails and into the pavement we want to stay put and be effective. The general idea is that if someone is heading the right direction, they will see yellow and white reflections. If someone is heading in the wrong direction, that tape would glow red."

Another measure being taken is changing stoplights from the round green lights to green arrows, making it more clear which cars are allowed to turn and in which directions.

The sensor and lights designed by DOT are already installed in Danbury and the DOT will add them to seven other locations later this year, Morgan said. The locations will include two in Southington at I-84 Exit 32 westbound and I-84 Exit 28 by the truck stop, in Colchester at Route 2 Exit 18 and in Milford at I-95 Exit 34.

There will be 15 additional locations receiving the technology next year, Morgan said. The 15 locations are across the state, mostly for exits off I-84, I-91 and I-95, according to Morgan.

Wrong-way driving is on the rise in Connecticut this year, with 12 accidents, resulting in 22 deaths, Morgan said. Most of the accidents have occurred between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., which is why he said the lights may be beneficial.

Data from the light technology already installed on a Danbury exit ramp has been inconclusive, DOT Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe said.

"This year has been by far the deadliest year in recent memory, with 22 wrong way fatalities occurring on the highways," DOT Commissioner Joe Giulietti said. "In fact, 2022 exceeds the number of wrong-way fatalities from the previous three years combined. With more than 85 percent of wrong-way drivers found to be impaired, we need people to think twice before getting behind the wheel because one wrong move can be deadly."

"There's more time to go in the year. For us, the infrastructure has remained the same. What has gotten much worse is driver behavior," he continued. "I've talked before about fact that cars are going much faster than they've ever gone before. They got used to driving on the highway when we had low pandemic numbers. Now we have everything back at pre-COVID levels."

Often, wrong-way accidents occur in areas where the entrance and exit ramps are side-by-side.

Of the state's 700 entrance and exit ramps, more than 200 are considered high-risk, based on evaluations conducted by the DOT, Giulietti said.

"My law enforcement partners know better than anyone how horrific a wrong-way crash scene is," Giulietti said. "These crashes are often deadly. They're routinely caused by impaired drivers. In addition to the mitigation measures you'll see here at this ramp we are also launching a public awareness campaign to reach drivers."

Wrong-way drivers make an already difficult job more challenging, State Police Sgt. Christine Jeltema said.

"We receive multiple calls on a weekly basis reporting wrong-way drivers. No highway in our state is immune," Jeltema said. "We risk our lives. The citizens of Connecticut risk their lives and the passengers in those vehicles' lives are at risk. We know there could be several reasons of why there are wrong-way drivers, and we know impaired drivers are one of them, but we also know there could be a mental health issue. We need to understand we are out there to help these individuals if they're in a crisis or to get them off the road if they are driving impaired."

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RELATED: Mass. trooper injured blocking wrong-way driver to protect other drivers 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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