Could GPS devices be leading people to drive the wrong-way?

Wrong-way car involved in morning crash on SR-51
Posted at 4:30 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 13:12:25-04

PHOENIX — With the latest wrong-way crash on Wednesday, there have been nearly 30 incidents so far this year.

Many drivers in the Valley have speculated why Arizona is such a problem area for this type of dangerous driving behavior.

MAP: Wrong-way thermal cameras installed on Valley freeways

ABC15 viewer, Pete Devitt, reached out writing, "The I-17 has been around for almost 50 years, but it gets wrong way drivers now, but hardly ever in the past." Pete wondered if new technology, like global positioning systems (GPS), were playing a significant role.

Operation Safe Roads investigated Pete's idea to see if navigation on your phone or from your car was putting drivers on the 'wrong-way' path.

"If the GPS is saying, you know, turn left in 1.1 mile or 80 feet or 100 feet, it's probably difficult for somebody to assess, well, exactly how much is 1.1 mile or 100 feet and make that turn accurately," Ram Pendyala said.

Pendyala is an Arizona State University professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. ABC15 asked Pendyala to look over a study our team found from 2016 with the Journal of Traffic Transportation Engineering.

Overall, the study found that GPS devices could offer incorrect and potentially dangerous directions if the area was dense — meaning if there was a short distance between an access point and an exit ramp.

"But in Arizona where things are quite spaced out and the footprint's larger, I suspect that it's not really the issue," Pendyala explained. "...I suspect that GPS devices are probably not contributing all that much to wrong-way driving. I think it's more really just an error in judgment on the part of drivers."

If a driver is under the influence, that could be a different story.

With technology advancing every day and the reliance on it growing, Pendyala said this is a topic we cannot ignore. Every avenue needs to be looked at to save lives.

He stressed that a GPS is a guide not a control. Humans must control the car and look at signs and roadway markings before making a move.

Do you have a road issue or a question for the Operation Safe Roads team? You can call 833-AZ-ROADS or email