New system to catch wrong-way drivers

January 6, 2011 8:23:15 PM PST
The Harris County Toll Road Authority is improving the way it catches and stops wrong-way drivers. It's a move that will continue saving lives. More than one million vehicles use the Westpark Tollway each month and if that includes you, hopefully you never see a wrong-way driver.

"Lives can be lost. We've had fatality on the Westpark due to wrong-way drivers," said Calvin Harvey of the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

A wrong-way driver from Christmas night was finally stopped just east of Highway 59 and taken away, charged with DWI.

But last June, it took a spike strip. An officer leans over the wall to get the job done, then with guns drawn he and a backup officer approach the car. The person had also been driving the wrong way and had also been intoxicated, according to officers.

Catching these drivers both started with the same alert.

We've shown you how the wrong-way detection system works. Radars at exits set off an alarm. A dispatcher then sends out an officer.

As cameras followed this driver last June, the officer positioned himself. His flashing lights stopped potential danger.

The system has been a success -- no fatalities since its installment in 2009, but the deaths of a young couple in 2007 due to a wrong-way driver keep toll road officials thinking.

"We do everything we can to make sure public safety is number one priority so it's not something we forget," said Harvey.

So now they're upgrading.

"We've looked at it and said how can we keep doing this better how can we better protect the public make the commute safer for the public," Harvey said.

Soon you won't see radars at the ramps; instead there will be a puck system with sensors drilled into the ground. They are already at the Post Oak and Richmond intersection and will eventually be at all 17 detection sites. The pucks have proven to be more accurate and much is at stake.

"It's priceless to us and I would think the public would think it's priceless too, because it can save someone they know or their own life," said Harvey.

Since the system was installed in 2009, 23 wrong-way drivers have been detected. Of those, nine were charged with DWI.