Life-Saving Tech to Prevent Fatal Wrong-Way Crashes Slow to Arrive in North Texas: NBC 5 Investigates - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Investigation reveals frequency of wrong-way crashes in Texas

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Life-Saving Tech to Prevent Fatal Wrong-Way Crashes Slow to Arrive in North Texas: NBC 5 Investigates

New data: At least 260 Texas wrong-way crashes since January

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    NEWSLETTERS

    (Published Monday, May 4, 2015)

    NBC 5 Investigates has learned at least 14 people have died and 171 have been injured since Jan. 1 in more than 260 wrong-way crashes in Texas.

    Earlier this year, NBC 5 used data from the Texas Department of Transportation to pinpoint areas where wrong-way crashes happen more frequently.

    Two weeks ago those numbers increased again after another wrong-way crash injured four people on Interstate 35E in Carrollton.

    Texas currently leads the nation in the number of wrong-way crashes, but the story of a girl from Florida could help change that.

    Gary Catronio's daughter Marisa was only 21-years-old when she and a friend, driver Kaitlyn Ferrante, were both killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver.

    "It wasn't until about 5:30 in the morning that Florida Highway Patrol came out to us in the waiting room and said ... we regret to inform you that your daughter didn't make it," said Catronio.

    That day changed his life and set him on a mission.

    "We started digging into what could we do to stop wrong-way drivers," said Catronio.

    The wrong-way driver was a 20-year-old woman with a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit. Authorities say she tweeted "2 drunk 2 care" that night before the crash.

    "[It's] just a totally horrific thing to have to go through and bear on a daily basis. It's beyond words," said Gary.

    Catronio launched a search for solutions to spare other families the same pain. He contacted a company that's developed an LED sign that triggers the light when drivers pass the sign going the wrong way. The system also captures a picture of the car and sends it to police while posting messages on highway signs warning other drivers in the area.

    Catronio convinced Florida officials to install them in the area where his daughter died.

    In the first seven weeks of adding the new technology, pictures captured by the cameras showed four wrong-way drivers who went the wrong way but the cars appear to have turned around after passing the signs.

    "It brought tears to my eyes that a life was just saved," said Catronio.

    Texas has been testing about 60 LED signs for three years in San Antonio as part of a pilot project that includes sensors to detect wrong way drivers and alert the police. Supporters said the program is already saving lives there.

    "I'm proud to say that, because of our employees and our police, we've seen a 30 percent reduction in wrong-way driver crashes over the last two years and we're proud of that," said TxDOT Engineer Dale Picha.

    That's San Antonio. What about North Texas?

    NBC 5 Investigates asked a TxDOT spokesperson if any LED lights had been installed on any TxDOT ramps in the DFW area and if they have any devices to detect wrong-way drivers on ramps and the reply to both was, "Not yet."

    Shane Howell, a Dallas sign company owner and member of two national and state committees that study new road sign technology, said it takes time to get new products on the road partly because state and federal governments have complicated multistep processes for testing new signs to make sure they don't cause other problems for drivers.

    "It does take time. It's not just something you can do overnight," said Howell.

    TxDOT said it's working on a pilot program for North Texas that may be in place in 2016 -- four years after the San Antonio tests began.

    Catronio is already working on another solution that may save lives.

    It's a system that would deploy plastic tubes right out off the pavement, immediately alerting drivers going the wrong way. The tubes are soft enough that they can hit a car without damaging it.

    Just another tool he hopes to promote nationwide to stop tragedies like the one that took his daughter's life.

    "It's the worst feeling in the world. It's with you forever," said Catronio.

    The cost of the LED sign systems is between $4,000 and $5,000 per sign if the sign just flashes constantly. The complete systems with sensors triggered by wrong way drivers that alert police can cost as much as $40,000 per ramp, but they would not need to be installed everywhere. Highway officials could target problem ramps in areas with the most wrong-way crashes.

    Information contained in this report represents reportable data collected from Texas Peace Officer's Crash Reports (CR-3) received and processed by the Department as of the report date.

    A reportable motor vehicle traffic crash is defined as: “Any crash involving a motor vehicle in transport that occurs or originates on a traffic way, results in injury to or death of any person, or damage to the property of any one person to the apparent extent of $1,000.”

    Federal highway safety laws require the state to create this crash database for use in obtaining federal safety improvement funds. Section 409 of Title 23 of the United States Code, forbids the discovery and admission into evidence of reports, data, or other information compiled or collected for activities required pursuant to Federal highway safety programs, or for the purpose of developing any highway safety construction improvement project, which may be implemented utilizing federal-aid highway funds, in tort litigation arising from occurrences at the locations addressed in such documents or data. Information that is not available to a party in civil litigation may be confidential under state law.

    For Motor Vehicle Crash Data Report definitions, please go to txdot.gov and view or download the Annual Motor Vehicle Crash Data Report Definitions report.

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