It’s difficult to imagine a worse driving scenario: drivers that miss signs that clearly state, “Wrong Way” or get highway on-ramps and off-ramps confused, or perhaps have one too many drinks and drive straight into oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, these drivers are out there, and they cause hundreds of wrong-way driving collisions annually throughout the metro Phoenix area.

At a mid-year count in June 2017, there were 698 reports of wrong-way drivers (740 by the same time the year prior). 32 arrests had been made for driving under the influence, the most common factor in wrong-way driving crashes. And for the entirety of 2016, there were more than 1,600 reports of wrong-way driving, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

What’s being done about wrong-way driving in Arizona

Fortunately, many wrong-way drivers catch themselves in the act and reorient themselves in time to avoid a crash. But for the crashes that do occur, research shows that 31% of them happen between midnight and 3 a.m.

One of the biggest points of confusion: thinking a freeway exit is an entrance ramp. Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has employed numerous strategies to catch these drivers’ attentions and to alert the public of the dangers should a wrong way driver be spotted. For example, they’ve installed even larger “Do Not Enter” and/or “Wrong Way” signs at many exit ramps, and existing signs have been physically lowered in hopes of being more easily spotted.

Another line of defense has been installing pavement markers along exit ramps. These markers are shaped like arrows and they point the right direction of travel along these exit ramps. These markers include red reflectors.

ADOT is also leveraging the ubiquitous nature of smartphones to protect the public from wrong-way drivers. In 2017, it released a new mobile app which works to alert users about wrong way driver locations, in addition to a series of other traffic updates. The app works by taking in data from numerous thermal cameras along Interstate 17. When cameras spot a wrong-way driver, not only will an alert go out via the app, but all cameras along the I-17 corridor and light up signage along the way that there’s a wrong way driver on the loose.

How drivers under the influence play a role

Drunk drivers and wrong way driving are closely connected. One report notes that, “Drunk drivers cause three-quarters of all wrong-way crashes, of which half occur around 2 a.m.” More than 40% of those caught had more than double the legal limit of alcohol in their systems. In fact, the chances that a wrong way driver is under the influence is 13 times more than for “regular drivers” in other crashes.

To help curb wrong way driving caused by DUIs, DUI checkpoints throughout metro Phoenix are ramped up significantly during the holiday period

See a wrong way driver? Here’s what to do.

If you see a wrong way driver, and you’re on an Arizona divided highway—such as the I17, 101, or US 60—first, slow down. Check your mirrors and move to safety, away from the wrong way driver. Once you’re in a safe place, immediately dial 9-1-1.

If you’re traveling along a freeway and see an overhead message that there’s a wrong-way driver, move to get off the freeway at the first exit ramp you possibly can.

And remember, when in doubt, fall back on your defensive driving skills. Drivers who are under the influence are highly unpredictable. It’s critical to be constantly aware of your surroundings and your driving conditions and always wear a seat belt.