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NTTA Using Thermal Cameras In Pilot Program To Detect Wrong-Way Drivers

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM)Less than 48 hours after a wrong-way driver hit and killed a 9-year-old girl and her parents, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) announced their new effort to not only detect people traveling on highways in the wrong direction, but alert those on the roadway about oncoming wrong-way drivers.

"We see these incidents all the time," said Michael Rey, the spokesperson for NTTA.

NTTA thermal cameras 2
(credit: North Texas Tollway Authority)

In April, three people were killed in a wrong-way crash on the Dallas North Tollway.

Just three months later, another wrong-way crash on the same highway left two people dead.

"The issue with the wrong way driver instances is they are first and foremost almost exclusively impaired drivers, and often times severely impaired drivers," Rey said. "So the challenge becomes how to communicate with the driver."

NTTA is testing out a new program to help prevent these accidents by alerting the driver of their mistake.

A thermal camera system installed on the south end of the Dallas North Tollway monitors the regular flow of traffic. When it sense a car driving in the wrong direction, it triggers flashing signs.

They'll be especially jarring in the late night or early morning hours.

"So at this point of the Dallas North Tollway, it's a very dark area until these lights go off," Rey said. "Then it lights up like a Christmas tree. So it's an instant warning to the driver."

At the same time those signs start flashing, the system sends an alert to NTTA's Safety Operation Center, and staffer immediately notify DPS Highway Patrol.

They can also use the overhead message signs on the highway to warn drivers there's a wrong-way driver ahead.

"I think this technology is certainly something that is potentially promising, and we're looking forward to seeing the statistics and the results from it," said William Cardamon, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in Texas.

According to data collected by MADD, Texas leads the country in drunk driving fatalities. The group supports this effort to mitigate a potential crash.

"It obviously devastates the lives permanently of the victims and it permanently, significantly ruins the life of the individual that was driving drunk," Cardamon said.

NTTA plans to monitor this pilot program for the rest of the year, look at the results, and see what improvements need to be made. Then the agency will determine if it can be used on other parts of the NTTA system, like the Chisholm Trail Parkway or the George Bush Turnpike.

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