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Exclusive: Pilot Program Shows Hope For Preventing Wrong Way Wrecks

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) - Seven weeks ago Florida Turnpike officials began a pilot program, introducing radar enabled wrong way signs and cameras to 15 highway interchanges in South Florida.

Turnpike officials say they have anecdotal evidence that the signs are working.

WATCH Carey Codd's report, click here.

So far, according to Florida Turnpike Enterprise Public Information spokesperson Chad Huff, they have seen four incidents where the signs lit up and wrong way drivers backed up and out of harm's way.

Huff said one of the instances came just before midnight on October 26 as the wrong way surveillance cameras snapped photos of a truck heading the wrong way onto the Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike. The lights flashed, a warning was sent and the Florida Highway Patrol responded. Huff said the driver noticed his mistake and safely drove off.

"That gives us the hypothesis that they've seen the sign or they've seen something that has indicated something's amiss and they've been able to avoid any sort of collision," Huff told CBS 4's Carey Codd.

Huff showed us photos of another vehicle trying to get on the Homestead Extension on November 15 in the wee hours of the morning. Again, he said the signs flashed and the driver stopped and turned around without anyone being harmed. Huff said turnpike officials at the transportation management center cannot say for certain that that it was the signs that alerted the driver s but either way danger was avoided.

"I think that's pretty encouraging for whatever reason the motorist realized the motorist was going the wrong way," he said.

Gary Catronio's daughter Marisa was killed in a wrong way crash on the Sawgrass Expressway in November 2013 along with her best friend Kaitlyn Ferrante.

While the Turnpike was embarking on a pilot project for the radar enabled wrong way signs, Catronio's organization Marisa's Way pushed for the signs to be installed near the area where his daughter's life was taken. Catronio says whether it was the signs or something else that stopped these wrong way drivers from entering the highways, he's glad other lives were spared.

"Someone's life was just saved," he said, after seeing the photos. "That was my gut reaction. They weren't gonna be impacted like I was that night with my daughter and Katie. Seeing those brake lights brought tears to my eyes."

Turnpike officials say the wrong way cameras on the Sawgrass at the Oakland Park interchange captured a wrong way driver about to head north in the southbound lanes. We're told that driver also stopped and turned around. There was also an incident on the northbound exit ramp to the Florida Turnpike at 27th Avenue in Miami-Dade.

This wrong way detection pilot program is also underway in Tampa and Tallahassee. CBS4 News learned there were six wrong way crashes and six wrong way drivers on that stretch of the turnpike over the past three years. The pilot program will cost the state about 400-thousand dollars and was in the works prior to the deadly crash that left suspected drunken wrong way driver Kayla Mendoza facing DUI Manslaughter charges for the crash that killed Catronio and Ferrante.

The Florida Department of Transportation says the signs will light up once a wrong way driver makes a wrong turn. If the driver continues on the highway photos of the car will be sent to FHP, warning messages will appear on the highway and troopers will be dispatched. The Florida Department of Transportation says the pilot program will likely last about a year and, based on the information they collect, a decision will be made on whether to purchase the signs and install them permanently.


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