ORLANDO, Fla. - On the morning of Aug. 30, 2012, Charles Penrose left his home heading east on SR-408. At the same time, a suicidal man, John Joseph Hughes, was heading west in the east lanes looking to end his life.
Traveling without his lights on, Hughes collided with Penrose, killing both men.
There is little that could have been done to stop Hughes. However, for the last seven years the Penrose family has been working to make sure innocent drivers don’t pay the price for the actions of wrong-way drivers.
“The technology is there, and if there is a sign on the road that says, ‘Be on alert wrong-way driver,’ you have to know that I’ll be reading that sign,” Jan Penrose, the widow of Charles Penrose, said. “I don’t want to see more families going through what we have, I don’t want to see our numbers growing.”
In 2015, the Penrose family started putting pressure on the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) to implement wrong-way warning systems. Sensors to detect a wrong-way driver, warn the driver, then send out an alert to oncoming traffic.
Almost 40 exits in the CFX area now have this technology in place, providing a measure of security to drivers.
But the problem of wrong-way drivers isn’t exclusive to Central Florida. In 2015, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles recorded about 1,500 wrong-way crashes, resulting in 96 deaths.
“We are looking to put another 500 in across the state, not just along the Turnpike system,” FDOT Traffic Operations engineer John Easterling said.
At a cost of about $30,000 per exit, the wrong-way detection systems need a source of funding.
In CFX area, tolls pay that cost. However, not all of FDOT’s roads are tolled, meaning the cost of warning systems must come from grants and approved state and federal budgets.
“This is an experimental application. The Florida Department of Transportation had to apply for a request to experiment with this technology, and it had to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration,” Easterling said. “We now know that this technology is effective in both alerting a wrong-way driver, as well as getting that information to our traffic control centers.”
FDOT said it plans to have 500 new systems in place within the next three years.
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