Wrong Way sign

Two days after the new Panda Express opened its drive-thru on Pinal Avenue in Casa Grande, someone drove into the side of the building.

It only took two months after the new State Route 347 overpass opened in Maricopa before someone drove off it.

No one was hurt in either incident, and most readers of PinalCentral were able to make light of the events.

“This is why we can’t have nice things” was one of the social media posts that appeared with both stories.

If there was a state ranking for bad drivers, Arizona could be No. 1.

But most incidents of bad driving in the state are no laughing matter.

There is another state ranking we could be on top of — the number of wrong-way drivers.

For years the state has been wrestling with solutions to the number of wrong-way drivers who have caused devastating accidents, especially on the freeways.

While there have been some instances of confused drivers taking a wrong turn and ending up in opposing lanes on the freeway, most wrong-way drivers have been impaired or fleeing police.

Most of the efforts to stem this trend have been trying to educate drivers, or detect them when they are going the wrong-way.

A $2.1 million highway-safety project to install hundreds of new signs on Phoenix-area freeways to head off wrong-way drivers is nearing completion.

The Arizona Department of Transportation says the new signs are larger than previous ones to get the attention of drivers heading in the wrong direction on off-ramps or in freeway travel lanes.

But there hasn’t been much progress in how to stop a driver once they are going the wrong way.

Last year there were at least three occasions in which Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers intentionally drove their patrol vehicles into the path of wrong-way drivers.

On Interstate 40 near Flagstaff a DPS sergeant, who was not identified, used his vehicle to stop traffic and then collided head-on with a wrong-way driver involved in a police pursuit.

The sergeant and the impaired wrong-way driver were both injured.

In Marana a trooper intentionally rammed a wrong-way driver on Interstate 10 to prevent a major collision.

And a motorcycle trooper put himself in harm’s way to stop traffic on a Phoenix freeway in order to apprehend an impaired wrong-way driver.

The trooper was able to perform a traffic break, essentially stopping traffic on the freeway “before putting his life in danger” as he caught up with and stopped the impaired wrong-way driver, DPS said in a press release.

So our most effective method of stopping wrong-way drivers is for law enforcement officers to put themselves in harm’s way?

Well, there might be a better option.

Last month a trooper shot and wounded a man driving a big rig the wrong way on I-40 after he bolted a commercial vehicle inspection.

The trooper positioned himself on an overpass near Flagstaff and shot the trucker with a rifle because he imperiled other drivers and pursuing troopers.

The wounded man was hospitalized and is expected to recover.

The truck went through the median several times to avoid tire-deflation devices deployed by troopers and began driving west within eastbound traffic lanes, according to DPS.

“This gentleman dictated the course of the events from the moment he jumped in the vehicle and fled the inspection,” DPS spokesman Bart Graves told the Arizona Daily Sun. “By his driving behavior, he showed no regard for anyone else on the road.”

Graves said the trooper feared the possibility of the truck slamming into oncoming traffic and decided to fire at the truck and driver.

To me, shooting the driver is a better option than the trooper sacrificing himself by driving head-on into a wrong-way driver. It’s the kind of decision that has to be made when the safety of the public is of the utmost priority. We don’t expect police officers to be human shields when facing a rampaging gunman.

Besides, such an option could also be part of a more effective sign education campaign than the one we have now.

Along with the wrong-way signs on the freeway ramps warning drivers, we could add another sign:

“Wrong-way drivers will be shot.”

That might be enough to sober up many drivers.

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You can contact Andy Howell at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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