Wrong-way drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol—an all-too-frequent cause of deaths on I-17 and other Arizona freeways—will automatically face felony charges under a new state law.
Two out of three wrong-way crashes are caused by impaired drivers, the governor’s office said in a statement today. The bill, signed by Governor Doug Ducey today, is part of a broader effort to curb the problem, particularly on I-17 in Phoenix.
“You’d think it was obvious by now, but to anyone out there who hasn’t gotten the memo: Booze, drugs and driving don’t mix,” Ducey said in January, when he called for the legislation. “Your actions are beyond foolish—they are lethal. And we will not tolerate it.”
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The new bill, HB 2243, will automatically charge an impaired wrong-way driver on the highway with a felony. In addition, the proposed FY 2019 budget provides funding to add resources for an enhanced Wrong-Way Driver Night Watch to improve response times to wrong-way and impaired drivers, the statement said.
Last June, Ducey called on state agencies to take other actions to help prevent wrong-way driving. One result: the installation of a thermal camera system on Interstate 17 between I-10 and Loop 101 that detects wrong-way vehicles entering the highway. The pilot project was the first in country, the governor’s office says. So far this year, the system has detected 12 wrong-way drivers. None of these incidents resulted in a vehicle reaching the primary freeway or causing a crash.