I previously wrote that I thought the North Texas Toll Authority was not doing enough to protect motorists on the Dallas North Tollway from wrong way drivers. If that’s the case, what can be done?
First, I think the NTTA needs to take a real tough look at the design of the on-ramps and off-ramps of the tollway. I know that Sherita Coffelt, the NTTA spokeswoman, has remained steadfast that no problems exist with configuration, but it’s clear that something is wrong. I know that in several other states, the various transportation departments have been able to drastically reduce the wrong-way driver incidents by such simple tactics as adding or removing barriers to more clearly direct traffic, making it harder for drivers to get on roadways going the wrong direction and easier for drivers to get on roadways properly. The NTTA needs to have the experts at the Texas Transportation Institute look this over and see if any solutions exist.
Second, since warning drunk drivers they’re driving the wrong way is largely ineffective, the NTTA should investigate a system to warn drivers going the correct way when wrong way drivers might be present. For more than a decade, New Mexico has used an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to warn drivers driving the correct way of the presence of wrong way drivers. The system uses a vehicle sensor near exit ramps. When vehicles are detected driving the wrong way, the system triggers two flashing lights; one light facing the wrong way driver flashes warning him or her, and another light facing the proper flow of traffic starts flashing to warn that traffic of the presence of a wrong way driver. This gives a warning to the drivers that are actually in a position to react — drivers driving the proper direction. Since then, other states have experimented with the use of various ITS systems to warn drivers and to even automatically warn public safety officials about the presence of wrong way drivers.
Third, the NTTA should take the lead on educating the driving public on how to "defend" themselves from wrong way drivers. For instance, most wrong way wrecks occur in the left lane of traffic (because drivers going the wrong way tend to stay to their right). The public should be warned to limit their driving in the left lane after dark, the peak time for wrong way wrecks. The NTTA should take the lead on an educational campaign to provide tips such as this to motorists.
In the last bit of hope, leads may also be coming from the automotive industry. For example, BMW and Nissan are both working on systems that would use vehicles’ GPS and navigation systems to warn the car’s driver, and potentially other drivers, when the car is entering the roadway in the wrong direction.
If you want to learn more about wrong way wrecks and countermeasures, please read this technical report from Scott Cooner at the Texas Transportation Institute. I have read countless articles and reports on wrong-way drivers, and this report is the most thorough.