TAMPA, Fla. — It’s something no driver wants to see: Headlights coming right at them, as another car goes the wrong way.
The Florida Department of Transportation says it happens far too often on Tampa Bay’s roads.
Mark Reale is one of the victims of a wrong-way crash. He doesn’t remember the moment he nearly died.
“I went to bed the night before the accident and woke up six weeks later in the hospital,” he explained.
Reale was hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge.
“I can't believe I survived,” Reale, who spent more than a hundred days in the hospital, said. “Somehow, I lucked out. I made it.”
Less than a month after that crash, another wrong-way driver on the same bridge left a 24-year-old woman fighting for her life. Now, FDOT is working to make those crashes the last.
“This software will absolutely save a life,” FDOT Spokesperson Kris Carson said.
Six new cameras on the bridge can detect a driver going the wrong way. If any of them do, an alarm goes off in FDOT's dispatch center.
“And they'll be able to notify FHP dispatch, which is in this same building,” Carson explained.
Within seconds, FDOT will also be able to change electronic message boards to let other drivers know to be on the lookout.
Reale hopes this new system will keep another driver from ending up like him, or at least get help to the scene sooner.
However, this is a high-tech solution to a man-made problem. FDOT said the best way to prevent these crashes is to stay off the road if you've been drinking.
Right now, FDOT is testing the new system. They say so far, it's working well.
According to FDOT’s latest records, there have been seven wrong-way crashes in the Tampa Bay area in 2019. There have been 10 total arrests of wrong-way drivers this year, all in Hillsborough County.
In 2018, the Tampa Bay area had 17 wrong-way crashes. Hillsborough County had the most arrests of wrong-way drivers in 2018, with 88 people taken into custody.
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