CINCINNATI — New technology is aiding law enforcement in catching wrong-way drivers faster in hopes of preventing dangerous head-on crashes.
Just after 9 a.m. on Monday, May 31, 25-year-old Kelsey Peterson was driving south in the northbound lanes of Interstate 71 – dodging and weaving between cars for several miles before she was eventually stopped and later charged with driving the wrong way, operating a vehicle under the influence, and driving with a suspended license.
Sgt. Matthew Allard with the Ohio State Highway Patrol said a trooper on a different traffic stop heard the all-call on his radio.
“It appeared to him that it was going to cause a head-on crash,” Allard said. “What this trooper did was put himself in danger (by) getting in front of oncoming traffic. Activating his lights to slow everyone down.”
It was enough to slow Peterson down, turning what could have been a head-on collision into a minor crash.
“This allowed us to put a plan in place actively, as it was happening versus being reactive to it,” Allard said.
He said it’s a case of technology being used in the right way to save a life. Sensors installed on I-71, starting at the Lytle Tunnel and stretching north for 18 miles all the way to Fields Ertel Road, trigger wrong-way signs on exit ramps to alert drivers that they’re making a mistake on the road.
The signs are installed at three feet and seven feet high because studies have shown impaired drivers tend to look down more often. The signs are meant to attract the drivers’ attention before ever getting on the highway.
Once a car traveling the wrong direction passes the last sign, a camera turns on and the transportation management system out of Columbus is notified. From there, an all-call is put out.
“The cameras will notify the transportation management center, which allows ODOT to position the cameras on the oncoming car,” Allard said. “Which allows us to view live where the vehicle is at.”
The system has been in place for two years, according to Ohio Department of Transportation press secretary Matt Bruning, and prevented more than a dozen drivers from entering the highway in the wrong direction. Monday is the first time ODOT officiails know of that it didn’t deter a wrong-way driver. Before the updated technology, 911 calls were the only alert to emergency crews on the road.
“It helps us by getting us real-time information on where that vehicle is,” Allard said. “A lot of times, if it is a caller, and they’re going the opposite direction, we lost that real-time data. This allows us to attempt to intercept the vehicle prior to it crashing with another individual.”
Currently, the I-71 corridor through Cincinnati is the only stretch of road using the sensor system.