In the aftermath of a tragic accident that resulted in the death of an off-duty police officer on November 15 along the Northern State Parkway when another driver that was apparently travelling in the wrong direction collided with his vehicle, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has requested a meeting with the heads of the Department of Transportation to discuss ways to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.
In an interview, Ms. Rice indicated that in addition to amending New York State's Vehicle and Traffic Law to separately list wrong-way driving as a specific offense, and also intends to propose installing "rumble strips" on exit ramps to help drivers realize that they are entering a highway from the wrong direction.
While both proposals are welcome, I don't see how either will prove particularly effective in reducing wrong-way accidents. First, everyone knows that driving the wrong way down the street or onto a highway is wrong - and dangerous. So adding a statute that specifically says so doesn't seem to add anything to the mix.
Her second proposal is decidedly low-tech, and also unlikely to succeed. Here's why: wrong-way driving is often being done by those who are either seriously lost, drunk, or both. Thus, in focusing warning systems exclusively on a potentially impaired driver - to the exclusion of the non-impaired drivers who are driving in the right direction - this proposal misses out on the most likely option to avert disaster.
A better option, which has been adopted successfully in other parts of the country, includes the following:
- Installing radar detectors on the side of the highway to detect a wrong-way driver, which not only trigger electronic road signs to warn the driver that he/she is going the wrong way, but also triggers other electronic road signs to advise other drivers: "Warning: Wrong-way driver ahead. All motorists pull to the shoulder and stop." (This one is my favorite).
This system has further cool featuers, like a video camera that when sensing a wrong-way driver, automatically sends video feeds to the police, who can then set up a road block to stop the wrong-way vehicle. This system has successfully stopped nearly 20 wrong-way drivers in Houston over the past 3 years.
This system is pricey, though.
Another option that has been adopted by a few carmakers, like BMW, is using the car's own navigation system to alert the driver he or she is going the wrong way.
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