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Technology may offer ways to prevent wrong-way traffic deaths

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Wendy wondered what could be done to not only warn the police of the wrong-way driver but also other drivers on the road.

“Everyone knew except for the people that were driving the right way and were in imminent danger,” Wendy said. “And one of those people happened to be my husband.”

Wendy is pushing for change and is working with her husband’s friends on a solution. Many of Michael’s friends are engineers who worked with him when he led a technology innovation team at AT&T’s headquarters in Dallas and are now scattered across some of the nation’s biggest tech companies.

“We need to make the people that are in harm’s way aware so that they can take action to protect themselves,” said Michael Jackson’s friend and former co-worker, Michael Linneman.

NTTA cameras show a wrong-way driver on the President George Bush Turnpike on Aug. 13, 2022.NTTA

An attorney assisting the Jackson family obtained videos and records from the NTTA that revealed the driver who hit Michael Jackson was driving in the wrong direction for about eight minutes before crashing.

“We had eight minutes that we could get that information out,” Linneman said.

While police were warned almost immediately, alerting other drivers is more difficult. The tollway uses electronic Dynamic Message Signs to warn people on the road of hazards or changing conditions, but not all drivers may pass those signs before encountering the wrong-way driver.

wrong way driver incident
Michael Linneman, right, talks with NBC Dallas-Fort Worth senior investigative reporter Scott Friedman.Edward Ayala / NBC 5 Investigates

“Where the gap is, is letting the folks who are driving the right way know that there is a big danger up ahead,” said Stephen Higdon, the attorney assisting the Jackson family.

Linneman believes mobile phone technology can close that gap. He discovered state transportation departments like the Texas Department of Transportation already have the authority to issue alerts over phones through an existing federal system — FEMA’s “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System,” or IPAWS.

The IPAWS system is the same one used to deliver AMBER Alerts and other emergency notifications to phones.

“Similar to how you would get a weather alert if there was a flash flood on a roadway that you’re heading towards. That same technology could be used to display the alert for a wrong-way driver detected in your area,” Linneman said.

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