How the toll road wrong-way driver alert system works

HOUSTON - Wrong-way crashes are among the most dangerous and most deadly traffic hazards. That's why the Harris County Toll Road Authority launched an aggressive wrong-way driver detection program over a decade ago. 

Warning signs with LED lights that flash "Do Not Enter" and "Wrong Way," and reflectors are the first line of defense at exit ramps. 

If a wrong-way driver isn't stopped by those, sensors will trigger a response in the toll road's control room.

"A radar system will detect a vehicle going in the wrong direction and it will send a signal to our incident management center and alert the dispatchers, who immediately notify law enforcement," HCTRA Incident Management Capt. Calvin Harvey said.

Cameras in the incident command center then automatically shift to provide a view of the car's path. 

Next, electronic signs along the Toll Road change, telling other drivers in the area to pull over and stop. 

Finally, officers position themselves to set up spike strips to stop the wrong-way vehicle.

The system detected 179 wrong-way incidents from 2008-2015. Most of those drivers -- 129 in all -- turned around once they saw the warning lights. Officers were able to stop 27 drivers who kept going. Most of them were reportedly drunk.

The system cost $350,000 when it was launched. 

HCTRA officials said they physically check the warning system the first or second Tuesday of each month by driving a car past the censors. 

On a weekly basis, they conduct communication and device testing over the network.

The Texas Department of Transportation said there are no plans to expand the program to major highways like I-10, I-610 or I-45.

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