Thermal cameras coming to I-75 to help prevent deadly accidents

We’re getting a first look at new, state-of-the-art technology that will be used to help save lives on Florida highways.

It’s a direct result of a crash that killed 11 people in 2012 and was one of Florida’s deadliest accidents.

The fog was so bad, drivers could barely see the hands in front of their face.

The new technology is being installed first on I-75 on the 10-mile stretch of highway where the accident happened.

Lt. J.J. Moran was one of the first responders to a tragic crash that claimed 11 lives two years ago this month.

A mix of fog and smoke rolling through the area, known as Paynes Prairie south of Gainesville, created zero visibility conditions on I-75 overnight. It was so bad Lt. Moran parked his car and started walking.

“Next thing I know I hear the noise of a diesel engine and it was an ambulance coming up behind me with a firefighter leading it through the fog and they said ‘Where are we going?’ and I said ‘follow me’ and we just walked on in,” Moran said.

He helped save victims from the 25-car pileup.

But in the days after the crash, questions arose about why the highway wasn’t shut down. State lawmakers vowed they’d take steps to make sure it never happened again.

In the same spot where Lt. Moran parked his car, they unveiled the first of 12 thermal imaging cameras that will be placed every mile between Gainesville and the Marion County line.

These are the same type of cameras used by the military and airports, and will be monitored by traffic managers.

It’s a first for highways in America.

“With thermal it’s all based off of heat, so anything that generates heat or above absolute zero, we are able to see,” said FLIR Systems Director Dan Dietrick.

They also will place eight sensors in the prairie that can monitor visibility. If it gets too low, alarms will go off.

Three dynamic messaging signs will be used to warn drivers of hazardous conditions. With a $2 million investment, the signs first message pointed to safer travels ahead.

“If we could roll back time and put this technology in, if we could have saved any lives, that $2 million would be well worth it,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

They hope to complete project early next year.

Prasad said he’s looking at other stretches of highway, including Interstate 4, where the technology could be installed next.

The technology and plan was developed by researchers at the University of Central Florida and Florida State University.