SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Highway Patrol are reiterating a message of safety by asking for the public's help following fender benders.
Authorities are telling motorists involved in non-injury, minor incidents to move into the highway emergency lane, cautiously drive to the nearest exit, pull off the freeway and call 911.
The effort was announced at a news conference Thursday.
In the event of an injury crash or if the vehicle is not drivable, motorists are asked to remain inside the vehicle and dial 911, said UHP Col. Danny Fuhr. The goal is to keep troopers, emergency responders and motorists safe, he said.
"If we can move (vehicles) off as fast as possible, it's going to eliminate those slow downs and congestion … and prevent our troopers from handling crashes on the side of the road where last year 21 troopers were hit," Fuhr said.
The concept was first introduced in 2011 by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, and was a departure from what Utah drivers had practiced for decades. Hutchings said the idea for the change came during the 2011 legislative session after seven troopers were struck and injured during a six-week period.
It was then that he decided "we've got to do something different," he said.
"We are asking drivers to clear Utah interstates of minor collisions to prevent minor crashes from becoming major tragedies," Hutchings said.
The new law is applicable only to state highways and interstate freeways where UHP troopers patrol.
According to Hutchings, author of the legislation, removing minor crashes from the freeway will minimize the potential for secondary crashes from slowed or stopped lanes, reduce traffic congestion and keep traffic moving.
This year, three UDOT incident management trucks have been retrofitted to move disabled vehicles out of traffic to the next exit and out of danger.
The request from UDOT and UHP is intended to reduce auto-pedestrian injuries and fatalities and is in full compliance with Utah law, said Robert Hull, UDOT's director of traffic safety.
Utah traffic code states that vehicle operators may move the vehicle as soon as possible off the roadway or freeway main lines, shoulders, medians or adjacent areas to the nearest safe location on an exit ramp shoulder, a frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street or other suitable location that does not obstruct traffic. The code also states that moving a vehicle as required does not affect the determination of fault for an accident.
"It is important for Utah drivers to understand what to do if they are in a crash on Utah's freeways," Hull said. "Safety is our No. 1 priority, and by complying with these instructions, motorists will help keep troopers, emergency responders and other drivers out of harm's way."