What Texas Learned from Testing Wrong-Way Driving Detection and Alert Technologies

4 min. read
June 11, 2020

Of all the states in America, when it comes to wrong-way driving, Texas has the undesirable distinction of being the worst. Between 2004 and 2011, an average of 51 people have been killed each year in WWD crashes on the state’s highways and freeways, representing an outsized 14% of the national total.

The attributes and causes of wrong-way driving in the state are the same as they are everywhere: the vast majority occur after dark, on or near an exit ramp, and involve drivers who are intoxicated, disoriented, or otherwise impaired.

The difference in Texas is, at least in some parts of the state, the number of WWD collisions have fallen in recent years, while nationally these fatal crashes are holding steady or even increasing.

The first WWD systems

It took a police officer’s death in a WWD crash in 2011 for San Antonio to become the first jurisdiction in the country to take meaningful action against WWD. Shortly after Officer Stephanie Brown was killed, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), San Antonio Police Department (SAPD), and other local and state agencies established the Wrong Way Driver Task Force.

One of their first priorities was to identify problem areas for WWD in the area. Based on a review of 911 calls, the task force identified the U.S. 281 highway corridor between downtown and Stone Oak Parkway as a “hot spot” for WWD and began installing countermeasures there in the summer of 2012.

Flashing “WRONG WAY” and “DO NOT ENTER” signs were added at exit ramps, along with radar speed sensors designed to detect when a car enters the wrong way and send an alert to authorities. Staff at the local Traffic Management Center (TMC) also received an alert, allowing them to track cars’ movements on their cameras and send warnings to other drivers using dynamic messaging signs.

What worked—and what didn’t

The combination of signs and detection systems has had a significant positive impact on the U.S. 281 corridor in San Antonio. According to an article for Pew Research, the number of wrong-way driver reports in the city fell by nearly half, from 269 to 162, in the first five years the systems were operational.

But the technology has not been without issues. Since the beginning, the radar sensors have been plagued by false positives, meaning that authorities and the TMC are often alerted—and unnecessarily deployed—to a WWD incident when none is present. This has led to the detection components along the corridor being deactivated, according to a 2016 paper published by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (the flashing signs, however, have stayed).

New solutions emerge

Technology has come a long way since San Antonio implemented its first systems in 2009. While engineers there struggled to achieve accuracy and reliability with a single radar detector, they hypothesized that a two-radar system might help them “authenticate the primary radar’s wrong-way detection.”

They were onto something. For years, researchers have experimented with a variety of detection technologies, including thermal and magnetic sensors, microwave and doppler radar, and video imaging. While none of them proved adequate on its own, used in conjunction, they can offer an accurate, reliable, and effective defense against WWD.

Detect, warn, and alert with confidence

Carmanah’s WW400 detection, warning, and alert system is a prime example of multiple technologies working together to increase accuracy, safety, and efficiency. Utilizing both radar and video analytics, the WW400 dramatically reduces false alerts, requiring a final visual check by staff at the TMC to ensure an even higher degree of accuracy and confidence.

The system comes with a configurable number of flashing warning sign units—which are also available separately—that can be installed along a ramp to get drivers’ attention and promote self-correction. In San Antonio, the signs alone have been attributed to a 29% reduction in the rate of wrong-way drivers entering the highway.

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