TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay area has a sad and deadly history when it comes to wrong-way driver crashes similar to the one that killed Tampa Police Officer Jesse Madsen.
Over the past several years, the Florida Department of Transportation has been taking steps to try to reduce such incidents using a combination of signs, communications, and technology.
(The picture attached to this story is from March 2, when two women in their early 20s were killed in a wrong-way crash on Dale Mabry Highway.)
FDOT says it did not receive an automated alert letting them know a wrong-way driver had entered the highway before the crash that killed officer Madsen.
“There was not,” FDOT Spokesperson Kris Carson said. “In fact, we’re having our contractor go out today and check all of our devices on all the ramps."
Over the past seven years, FDOT has installed its wrong-way driver incident detection system at 20 locations.
Most of the systems are in Hillsborough County along I-275. A handful of others are along I-4 and I-75 in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk, as well as the Howard Frankland and Sunshine Skyway bridges.
The locations of the wrong-way driver detection system include:
- Bears Ave. SB Ramp to I-275
- Bears Ave. NB Ramp to I-275
- Fletcher Ave. SB Ramp to I-275
- Fletcher Ave. NB Ramp to I-275
- Fowler Ave. SB Ramp to I-275
- Fowler Ave. NB Ramp to I-275
- Busch Blvd. NB Ramp to I-275
FDOT says agencies around the nation are looking at Florida as a role model in wrong-way driver detection. Several more sensor locations are slated for installation next year around Tampa Bay, including:
- Sunshine Skyway LN S I-275 N & EXIT 16
- Pinellas Bayway I-275 N & EXIT 17
- PINELLAS Bayway I-275 S & EXIT 17
- 54TH AVE S I-275 S & EXIT 17
- 26TH AVE S I-275 N & EXIT 18
- 28TH ST S I-275 S & EXIT 21
- Dr. MLK JR I-175 E & EXIT Dr. MLK JR
- 6TH ST S I-175 E & EXIT 6TH ST S
- 8TH ST N I-375 E & EXIT 8TH ST N
- 5TH AVE N I-275 S & EXIT 23B
- N Ashley DR I-275 N & EXIT 44
- E Scott ST I-275 N & EXIT 44
- E Columbus DR I-4 E & EXIT 3
- N 50TH ST (US 41) I-4 W & EXIT 3
- E Bird ST I-275 N & EXIT 49
- E Busch BLVD I-275 S & EXIT 50
- E Fowler AVE I-75 S & EXIT 265 E
- E Fowler AVE I-75 N & EXIT 265 E
- E Fowler AVE I-75 S & EXIT 265 W
- E Fowler AVE I-75 N & EXIT 265 W
When triggered, sensors inform FDOT, which monitors the system 24/7. Florida Highway Patrol is then alerted, and overhead highway signs warn drivers about the potential threat.
Flashing lights warn the wrong-way driver to turn around.
“And we are showing that a lot of people who go up the ramps the wrong way or self-correcting,” said Carson. “There are a lot of crashes that are prevented that of course you just don’t hear about.
The Tampa Bay Area has seen a long list of deadly wrong-way crashes which first got FDOT’s attention in 2014. Here are some of them:
Deadly Wrong-way Crashes
- Feb. 2014 – I-275 - 4 USF students and wrong way driver
- Sept. 2014 – I-275 -2 sisters and passenger
- Sept. 2014 - I-75 – Tampa woman
- March 2016 – Selmon Expwy – HCSO Deputy John Kotfila
- Nov. 2017 – I-75 – Man and his pregnant fiancé
- Oct. 2018 – Howard Frankland Bride – Pinellas man
- Oct. 2019 – I-275 Lutz woman
- June 2020 – I-275 – 2 men in separate vehicles
- Nov. 2020 – I-275 – Brandon Woman
The crashes include a fiery wrong-way crash that killed four USF fraternity brothers and another in 2016 that claimed the life of a Hillsborough Sheriff’s deputy on the Selmon Expressway.
FDOT says there have been many more wrong-way crashes on surface roads, and hundreds of cases where wrong-way drivers have been arrested before causing a wreck.
Beginning in April, FDOT is installing the alert systems at 20 more locations. About half of those will be located in Pinellas County and the others in Hillsborough.
Unfortunately, says FDOT, an element they can’t control is driver behavior. In the vast majority of such crashes, the wrong-way driver, they say- is under the influence.
“It’s over 90% of them are impaired whether it’s drugs or alcohol,” said Carson. “So, we’re dealing with that as we're trying to put up signage. Try to grab the attention of a motorized with flashing signs. But if they are inebriated and not being attention it’s a difficult issue that we’re trying to combat.”
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