Tech that could prevent wrong-way crashes exists, but not in Jacksonville

2 wrong-way crashes in 2 days raise concerns

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two serious wrong-way crashes on North Florida freeways are raising safety concerns. 

On Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, 23-year-old Mary Russ and another person, who troopers have not yet publicly identified, died when Russ went the wrong way on Interstate 95 near Old St. Augustine Road.

On Saturday morning, five people were injured, one seriously, when troopers said a car driven by 21-year-old Destiney Brown went the wrong way on Interstate 295 near Pulaski Road.

The News4Jax I-TEAM has been looking at the problems with these types of crashes and possible solutions for years.

Potentially life-saving technology has been around for years, tested and used in Florida, but not in Jacksonville.

The Florida Department of Transportation has studied wrong-way crashes, finding 6,300 potential wrong-way crashes on freeways and expressways from 2009 to 2013.

The study found:

  • 411 people were hurt.
  • 75 people died.
  • 71% of the crashes were in dark conditions.
  • Alcohol and drugs were involved in 45% of the wrecks.

In 2016, News4Jax went to South Florida to see a pilot program from FDOT as the state tested cameras and sensors to detect wrong-way drivers, set off alarms and alert authorities. FDOT employees demonstrated how the technology worked when a vehicle went the wrong way on a ramp to the highway.

“They are able to hit every overhead message sign in the region that says 'be alert,'” said Chad Huff, a spokesman for Florida’s Turnpike in Pompano Beach. “'Wrong-way driver detected.'”

The systems have been tested in the Panhandle, Tampa and Orlando, as well, with good results. But so far, the technology has not been installed or tested in Northeast Florida, much to the disappointment of families who have lost loved ones like Wally Beale, a 69-year-old military veteran who was killed when he was hit by a drunk driver on I-295 near I-95 in 2016. The driver, William Uhrmann, was convicted and sentenced to prison.

“There's got to be something that our legislators and us as the public can do to stop this, because it's getting out of control,” said Ashley Galbraith, Beale’s daughter.

Northeast Florida FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray said Monday that the state has installed or upgraded 250 wrong-way signs for better visibility and increased markings on pavement. He said the agency is preaching driver responsibility and sober driving with the hopes of making our streets as safe as possible.

State troopers tell drivers to drive on the right side of the road at night to minimize the risk of being hit by a wrong-way driver.

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