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

Some have also questioned why the UHP doesn't block off large sections of the freeway when attending to an accident. Both Fuhr and Perry said not only does that require additional manpower, but many times it only puts the public in danger by causing additional accidents farther up the road.

Such an accident happened on Monday when officers shut down I-15 in Kaysville due to a chase and a fatal officer-involved shooting involving a man with a gun. Traffic on northbound I-15 quickly slowed to a standstill. An 18-year-old woman who came up on the slowing traffic too quickly was killed after trying to avoid the vehicles in front of her and slamming into a semitrailer.

"People are actually running over our flare patterns. They will run over a lighted flare to get an extra lane," Fuhr said.

Some of the wives believe the higher number of snow days this winter may be to blame for the increase in accidents, while others said that is only part of the problem.

"Even if we hadn't had this snow, we'd have accidents because people don't pay attention," Pope said.

Some of the wives questioned whether there needs to be greater consequences against drivers who hit troopers, arguing that if drivers won't pay attention to UHP warnings, maybe they'll pay attention to fines.

"If there's not a consequence, people don't generally change. In my opinion, there should be harsher punishment for people who do hit our law enforcers," Christensen said.

Pope agreed.

"They should be held accountable for something rather than just getting a ticket for going too fast for conditions," she said.

Neither Perry nor Fuhr said the UHP is ready to seek that kind of action. In 100 percent of the accidents involving troopers this year, having fines wouldn't have mattered because no driver intentionally hit a trooper.

"People aren't intending to hit the troopers, they just aren't using common sense. They aren't thinking about fines or anything like that. They're thinking about getting to their next destination as quickly as possible," Fuhr said.

One solution, according to troopers, may be to re-train drivers and their habits when they approach an accident or see a trooper on the side of the road. The first instinct of most drivers is to hit their brakes hard. Brent Shelby said all that does is cause the vehicle to slide out of control in the direction of where the driver was last looking. In his case, Shelby said the driver was looking right at him, saw his flashing lights, slammed on the brakes and slid right into him.

Troopers say drivers need to first give themselves plenty of distance between the vehicles in front of them on snowy days in addition to reducing their speed. And when drivers approach an accident, they should take their foot off the gas pedal and let their vehicle coast to a slower speed before applying the brakes.  

The UHP is also continuing to push its message that if a driver is involved in a minor fender-bender, they should drive to the nearest exit and then call troopers.

The spouses of troopers who spoke to the Deseret News said that despite all of this year's accidents, they're not about to tell their loved ones to call in sick on the next snowy day.

"We've been doing this long enough that I'm not really worried about that. When your husband says he wants to be a trooper … you kind of learn to deal with it. You never know, it could snow or it could be nice and sunny. He could be hit in any condition," Pope said.

"You just kind of learn to bite the bullet and say, 'OK, he may not come home.' You're just hoping that he makes the right decisions — and that the public makes the right decisions."

2013 trooper crashes

• Jan. 1 — A trooper investigating a crash on I-15 near 600 South was hit after a car slid into him.

• Jan. 10 — Trooper Jason Whitehead was investigating a crash on I-15 near 2500 South when another vehicle slid into him while he was inside his car. He suffered minor injuries.

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