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New Traffic Radar Aims To Stop Wrong-Way Drivers Before They Start

SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) -- It did not take long to observe a car heading the wrong direction onto an off-ramp of Highway 50 in West Sacramento.

It happened at the 5th and Bridge Street exit, across from Egor Mikhayloeskiy's home. 

He's seen a lot of near-accidents from wrong-way driving. 

"I would say at least two to three times a day," Mikhayloeskiy said. 

Many Bay Area visitors take the exit on 5th and Bridge Streets to go to Raley Field and watch the Rivercats, the San Francisco Giants' AAA team. 

But the off-ramp is often confused for an on-ramp. 

"I usually see people from all directions, sitting, honking at that person, like, 'Don't go there!' you know," observed Mikhayloeskiy.

That's why Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have partnered in a pilot program to stop wrong-way accidents. 

The program operates in Sacramento and San Diego. 

Here in Sacramento, the 5th and Bridge off-ramp is one of 17 locations along busy Highway 50 that are part of the project, according to Caltrans spokesman Gilbert Mohtes-Chan. 

"This is the next generation of countermeasures to battle wrong-way driving," Mohtes-Chan said. 

The countermeasures include giant "Do not enter" signs and red reflectors to warn wrong-way drivers. 

CHP Officer Mike Sheets explained, "What we want them to do is self-correct if we can, turn around on the ramp and get back off." 

In addition, six off-ramps are equipped with a solar-powered radar system. 

So when sensors detect a car heading the wrong way, it triggers a series of actions: the signs flash LED lights, cameras start to record video and pictures, capturing the car's license plates, and an audible alarm alerts highway patrol on computers and cell phones at the Traffic Management Center in Rancho Cordova. 

"With wrong-way drivers, every second counts," Officer Sheets said. "We want to get out there. We want to stop this person as soon as we can." 

Since the two-year project started in January, it has detected two wrong-way drivers. 

One got into a minor crash. 

Sheets said the driver was arrested on charges of driving under the influence. 

In the second case, a car at 5th and Bridge Streets appeared to catch the warnings, and turn around as hoped. 

"It's working good at this point," Officer Sheets stated. 

As for the wrong-way car we saw, it stopped at the warning signs. 

A passing police car guided it off the ramp.

"People realize and they turn around," Mikhayloeskiy observed.

As a result, he said it looks like the safety measures, though fairly new, are moving in the right direction.

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