I heard California is experimenting with ways to prevent wrong-way drivers on highways. Is Oregon looking for ways to stop wrong-way drivers?
— Driver Who Doesn't Want to Get Hit
The California Department of Transportation recently announced it has installed high-tech "Do Not Enter" and "Wrong Way" signs with flashing lights that will alert drivers they are traveling the wrong way. Data will also be sent to authorities about wrong-way drivers.
The signs are being tried in a two-year pilot study on a highway interchange in Sacramento.
Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Leaming said Oregon has long been concerned about the dangers of wrong-way driving.
"It's a pretty big problem. Some things can be done, ranging from inexpensive to expensive," he said. "Wrong-way driving typically results in fatalities. Nationwide, there are 300 to 400 fatalities each year due to wrong-way drivers. We've had our share of wrong-way drivers."
Wrong-way drivers, especially on Interstate 5, are often disoriented elderly people or very intoxicated people, Leaming said.
They are usually on the highways at night, between midnight and 4 a.m., and they often drive the wrong way in what is the left passing lane for oncoming drivers. Wrong-way drivers believe they are driving in the right slow lane. Drivers going in the correct direction should stay in the right lane when possible, especially late at night, Leaming said.
"In southwest Oregon, we're going to begin a pilot project to look at things we can do," he said. "We'll look at the less expensive, low-hanging fruit, as well as the more expensive things we can do. In problem areas, we'll look at more expensive measures."
Leaming said a relatively inexpensive thing to try is reducing the height of "Wrong Way" and "Do Not Enter" signs at interchanges.
"When people are very intoxicated, they tend to be looking down," he said.
ODOT can also paint a 20-foot-long arrow on the roadway showing the direction of travel, which could alert wrong-way drivers they are headed in the wrong direction, Leaming said.
He said California is experimenting with some relatively expensive, high-tech options, such as putting sensors and cameras on interchange ramps to sense wrong-way drivers. Warnings could then be sent to a traffic operations center, highway reader boards and the cellphones of drivers in the area.
"At this time, we're not doing the more expensive Intelligent Transportation System things California is doing," Leaming said.
In the 1960s, Leaming said, California tried out spike strips that would puncture the tires of wrong-way drivers. However, the spike strips couldn't stand up to wear-and-tear from drivers on the roads.
"The spikes would come down when a driver was going the right way. They eventually broke," he said. "People going the right way were having their tires punctured."
— Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.