Slow down, my husband works here

High number of trooper crashes concern spouses, but safety depends on motorists

Published: Sunday, March 3 2013 4:50 p.m. MST

But other than repeat warnings to the public reminding motorists to slow down and merge left of the lane where a trooper is pulled over, what other options do troopers have?

"The conversations are, 'What can we do?' We're looking at all possible options out there," Perry said.

One proposal is for troopers to park their cars farther away from the accident they're investigating and put a 4-by-4-foot pink magnetic sign on the backs of their vehicles with the words, "Slow Down: Crash Ahead."

Perry, who is also a state representative, said the high number of injured troopers this year has also sparked questions and concerns on Utah's Capitol Hill. But he conceded that any new laws or changes from the Legislature probably won't happen during this session.

One policy change the UHP isn't willing to consider making yet is the placement of trooper's vehicles at the scenes of accidents. UHP policy requires troopers to position themselves between an accident and oncoming traffic — essentially putting themselves in harm's way in order to prevent further injury and damage should another vehicle come sliding out of control into the accident scene.

"A lot of people have been questioning, 'Well, maybe the procedures of the highway patrol need to change.' We'd love to," Fuhr said. "I could stop all the crashes today if I changed the procedure. If I made it so that every single state trooper pulled in front of a crash scene and did not protect it, and did not render aid to those who need it, we wouldn't have any cars hit. But that goes contrary to what a police officer stands for.

"They are there to run toward danger when other people run away. They are there to protect people who are stranded and in need of help," Fuhr said. "The trooper has to ask himself, 'Do I put myself in danger, or do I continue to let these people in danger be in greater danger?' That's what a police officer does."

Perry concurred that despite the number of accidents, troopers will continue to protect and serve, and act as a barricade if needed.

Despite the high number accidents this year, Fuhr estimates that 90 percent of drivers are heeding the warnings and slowing down.

"Do we trade off 90 percent of the compliant people and put these other people at greater risk? We're saying no, not at this time," Fuhr said. "Our troopers, they sit in that car, waiting for a tow truck and ambulances to arrive, and they sit in there and they look in that rear view mirror thinking, 'I could very well be hit.' That's a nervous seat to be in."

The Deseret News spoke to several spouses of troopers who have been injured, and they all said they're comfortable with UHP keeping its policy of troopers putting themselves in harm's way to protect the public. Many said they knew that was part of the job when their spouses signed up to be troopers.

But while troopers are putting their lives on the line, they believe the public needs to do its part to give a little back.

"(The public doesn't) understand they're someone's family member, it's someone's son, someone's father, it's a husband, it's an uncle, it's a brother. They don't put that two and two together. A lot of people tell me, 'Well you knew this risk going into it. You knew this was something that could happen.' But just because we knew it was a risk going into it, it doesn't mean it's OK," said Cherilyn Christensen, whose husband was outside his patrol car setting up flares when another vehicle slid out of control into his vehicle.

"I know sending my husband out there, the department has his back. Other officers out on the road have his back. But it's kind of irrelevant because it just doesn't make enough of a difference. We need to have everybody be more aware. Everybody needs to be keeping their eyes up and watching out for our officers, otherwise it doesn't matter," said Christensen. "I wish people would think of (troopers) more as a person rather than just an officer who gives me ticket."

The Christensens have a 6-month-old daughter.

"They're there to protect the other person, that's their job is to get in between them," concurred Shelby. "I'm OK with it because that's their job."

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