FDOT seeks way to alert wrong-way drivers

Tampa, Florida – Since 2012, there have been four wrong-way incidents on Interstate 275 in Tampa with three of them resulting in deaths:

-- July 19, 2012, William Brooks Angel was killed when an alleged wrong way driver collided with his car near the Interstate 4 interchange.

-- Feb. 9, four University of South Florida fraternity brothers died in a similar incident near Busch Boulevard.

-- Aug. 13, Hillsborough County deputies arrested Jason Fulford as he drove the wrong way down the very same highway before getting off at Busch Boulevard and crashing.

-- The most recent incident was on Friday as Edward Duran allegedly drove the wrong way down Interstate 275 and crashed into an ambulance near Floribraska Avenue.

"We had the message boards lit up in less than a minute," said Kris Carson, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Carson said her department worked to alert drivers after receiving the first 911 call, but it apparently did not work.

"So the message was out there but again you have to be paying attention."

The current system is not perfect and that is why FDOT is mulling new ideas to help prevent similar incidents.

"There a software they're looking at that would notify our traffic management center, FHP right away and then there's also signage that we're looking at that have radar in them and they would start flashing or they would say wrong way," Carson said.

But she points out the common factor in all the incidents: Authorities report that the suspects in all cases were under the influence of either alcohol of drugs when they drove the wrong way.

So why not immobilize cars getting on the wrong way with something like tire spike?

"That was also studied but they found that the spike strips can actually get trash underneath them and debris. They can also damage the cars going the correct way down the ramp so that was now found to be feasible," said Carson.

FDOT is now waiting on approval from the Federal Highway Administration to begin testing flashing signs that will alert drivers, but the agency advises it is aimed at those who might have made a mistake.

"Our goal is to try to warn the driver going up the wrong way ramp. I mean if it's the tourist and they are coherent and they'll see the bright flashing signs and they'll realize they have made a mistake," said Carson.

The state does not track wrong-way crashes so there is no way to tell how big of a problem is statewide.

The Expressway Authority in Orlando and officials with the Florida Turnpike are conducting their own studies to make their roads safer.


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