Florida tests high-tech devices to prevent wrong-way crashes

The state is moving forward with a high-tech plan to prevent wrong-way crashes on portions of Florida's Turnpike and the Sawgrass Expressway.

Solar-powered, flashing signs that warn wrong-way drivers and also alert authorities to their presence will be installed this summer at 10 ramps on the Homestead Extension of Florida's Turnpike and five ramps on the Sawgrass Expressway.

The signs use radar and cameras to send images and location information about drivers traveling in the wrong direction to the state's traffic management system and the Florida Highway Patrol's command center.

"The radar will sense the vehicle driving in the wrong direction and it will activate LED lights on the sign, to warn the driver," said John Easterling, traffic operations engineer for Florida's Turnpike. "And then when the driver passes the sign, radar will send an alert to [the Florida Department of Transportation] and FHP. It will also take a series of photos and email the images."


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Engineers chose the Turnpike locations based on "substantial" nighttime traffic volume. The Sawgrass intersections were picked because of their T-shaped configurations, Easterling said.

Officials said there were 24 wrong-way crashes along the Turnpike from 2010 through 2012, and news clips show 22 fatal crashes in Broward and Palm Beach counties from 2009 through 2013.

FDOT's engineers in South Florida started studying the problem last year.

"There were a group of crashes that warranted us trying something out to try and prevent these incidents," Easterling said.

The pilot program initially did not include the Sawgrass.

But officials were convinced to add them by the parents of Kaitlyn Nicole Ferrante and Marisa Caran Catronio, 21-year-old best friends who were killed in a wrong-way crash last year by a driver accused of being impaired.

"It feels wonderful, and is gratifying that they are taking the situation that happened with Kaitlyn and Marisa seriously," said Christine Ferrante, of Coral Springs.

Turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said, "We view the Ferrantes and Catronios as partners in this effort to enhance safety."

Easterling added, "We all have the same goal: preventing tragic crash events."

The Turnpike devices will be going up at ramps on the Homestead Extension, between Doral and Miramar. Southbound motorists on the Sawgrass will notice the signs at Sample Road and Atlantic, Commercial, Oakland Park and Sunrise boulevards.

South Florida's pilot program will last two years and cost an estimated $340,000. Tests may also be conducted in the Tallahassee and Tampa areas this year.

Florida decided to try out the signs because of their detection and notification abilities and because of initial results reported by other states.

"In Texas, specifically, we talked with our counterparts and where they installed the technology, they had a 30 percent reduction in wrong-way events," Easterling said.

FHP Sgt. Mark Wysocky said he was interested to see how the new technology will work with drivers who are under the influence.

"The majority of the wrong-way crashes are at night or early morning hours," Wysocky said. "And the majority of them are impaired drivers. Whether [the signs] will make the driver stop or turn around, anything we can do is a step in the right direction."

The agency does not pursue wrong-way drivers because policy prohibits troopers from driving against traffic, Wysocky said.

"It's a safety issue for us, also," he said.

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report. Ltrischitta@Tribune.com, 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta