The Florida Department of Transportation Friday announced it will launch a pilot project to detect wrong-way drivers on the Howard Frankland Bridge.
The announcement comes on the heels of two wrong way crashes on the bridge, one on Thursday that left two drivers hospitalized and another two weeks ago in which a man died when he made a U-turn and hit another vehicle head-on.
Transportation department spokeswoman Kristen Carson said the agency recently finished testing video analytics software that was attached to closed-circuit cameras on the highway system. The cameras and software can detect vehicles traveling in the wrong direction and send alerts to the Traffic Management Center, dispatching Florida Highway Patrol troopers.
Similar technology has been used successfully in other states, Carson said.
“Preliminary recommendations conclude this technology provides 94 percent accuracy to detect such events,” Carson said. “Some other states are also testing this technology of infrared cameras to capture similar wrong way driving events on freeway segments with great success.”
Carson said testing of the retrofitted cameras on the Howard Frankland Bridge will begin in the next few weeks.
According to state data, there have been 13 wrong-way driving crashes in the Tampa Bay area in 2018 and nearly 90 since 2008. Six this year have been fatal.
The latest crash happened shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday when Andy Andreia Cuff Jr. made a U-turn near the hump of the northbound Howard Frankland and headed south in the northbound lanes, the Highway Patrol said. Near Fourth Street N, Cuff, 25, drove his 2008 Chrysler 300 into a 2013 Hyundai driven by 24-year-old Andrea Nicole Rush.
Rush initially was listed in critical condition, but she was upgraded to serious but stable condition Friday morning, Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said.
Cuff was treated and released Thursday, then arrested on a charge of DUI with serious injury. Cuff’s blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit for drivers of 0.08 percent while he was in the hospital and remained above 0.08 percent when he was booked into jail six hours later, Gaskins said.
Cuff was released from Pinellas County Jail on Friday after posting $5,000 bail.
Two weeks before that, Renard Antonio Griff also made a U-turn on the bridge as he headed to Tampa, driving in the opposite direction of traffic. McGriff drove about two or three miles before colliding with a van driven by Ozgur Akan. McGriff, 46, died at the scene. Akan, 40, was taken to a hospital with serious injuries.
Alcohol is suspected in both bridge crashes. Aside from technology, Carson said the human factor plays a big role in preventing wrong-way crashes.
“The majority of these incidents are DUI related,” she said. “FDOT and FHP are doing everything we can, but we also need the help of the public to make responsible decisions.”
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