NewsOperation Safe Roads


DPS: Wrong-way driving mostly a social issue

Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-02 22:13:30-04

PHOENIX — According to the latest numbers for the Arizona Department of Transportation, 17 people have lost their lives this year on Arizona roads because of a wrong-way driver. Those numbers reported through July 29, 2019.

The latest death comes after six reports of wrong-way drivers in one week. A 20 year-old girl from Goodyear was killed after a wrong-way driver slammed into her car on the Loop 101 at Union Hills Drive. An eyewitness told ABC15 the driver entered the highway in the wrong direction at Thunderbird, about four miles from where the crash happened.

On Thursday troopers arrested Manuel Castenada for driving the wrong-way down Interstate 10 near Ray Road in Chandler. DPS says Castenada rammed a patrol car and then tried to actually run across I-10 to get away. Troopers say in their report once they caught Castenada, he had urinated on himself, smelled of alcohol and admitted to drinking beer. It was only noon.

"The most frustrating part is, we know it can be prevented," said Sergeant Kameron Lee with DPS.

"Do we believe it's a roadway issue? No we don't." said Lee. "We believe this is a social issue. This is an impairment issue because 80 percent of these wrong-way drivers are impaired and that stat, that traverses state lines. That's from California to New York."

DPS says it shifted more troopers to the late night-early morning hours when wrong way drivers are more likely. With more troopers on the roads they say the faster they can respond. And you can't even see them but there's now a trooper watching cameras 24/7 in ADOT’s traffic operation center in Phoenix.

When a wrong-way driver is reported, the trooper watching the cameras can follow the vehicle and tell responding troopers where the driver is headed. This is also the room where ADOT signs are updated to let drivers know a wrong way driver is ahead.

"I think one of the things we focus on is what can the government do?" said Lee. "What can law enforcement do to prevent this? The real question is, what do we as a public need to do to prevent this? One, we need to make it a complete outrage to get behind the wheel impaired."

DPS says there are new laws on the books specifically for wrong-way driving. If you're caught going the wrong-way and you're not intoxicated, you could be fined $500. If you're drunk and caught, it's an automatic aggravated DUI, which is a felony.

DPS says Castenada, who was arrested on Thursday, will be charged with aggravated DUI among other charges for ramming into the DPS trooper who tried to block him in.

See the full list of wrong-way crashes reported in the Valley in 2019 below.