Jen Pilgreen, Deseret News
MURRAY — The Utah Highway Patrol will be hitting the roads in extra large numbers for the Memorial Day weekend, and their enforcement efforts will be guided by a database of crash information.
“The whole philosophy is: find out the problem areas, deploy the resources toward those areas and make it so everyone can arrive at their destination safely,” said Utah Highway Patrol Col. Danny Fuhr.
Fuhr said the UHP has been entering data from the past 2 ½ years into its system, and troopers are now seeing the dividends.
Last year, troopers recorded five death-free holiday weekends. So far this year, the first two holiday weekends have passed without a death.
UHP officials see a correlation.
“We see a huge impact on crashes and fatals when we have this flooding of the roadway in specific crime-related or traffic-related areas,” Fuhr said.
A second-straight nonfatal Memorial Day weekend would be unprecedented, troopers said. Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend has been one of the most deadly times on Utah roads, along with Halloween.
AAA’s travel survey projects that just over 2.6 million Mountain West residents will travel at least 50 miles this weekend; 2.3 million will be driving. Approximately 220,000 residents will fly to their holiday getaway, a decrease of 6.5 percent compared to last year.
“Despite the diminished tailwind for travel plans among Mountain West residents this Memorial Day weekend, many are still caving into their pent-up desires to leave town as the official summer travel season begins,” said AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough. “Many will cut back on expenditures by traveling closer to home, and staying with family and friends.”
Crash numbers from 2011 and 2012 have helped UHP officials formulate their plans of where to focus extra resources this year. In the Salt Lake Valley, Fuhr said saturation efforts are planned on I-80 near Parleys Canyon — where the data showed speeding and people not wearing their seat belt are significant issues — as well as generally along the I-15 corridor.
“We base everything that we do on data — data as far as where the crash is occurring, where the crime is occurring and where the problem areas are around the state,” Fuhr said.
Approximately 300 troopers are expected to work extra shifts over the holiday weekend. As the data shows driver behavior changing, UHP officials say the plan will be to refocus saturation efforts on new traffic trouble areas.
As always, troopers this year say they'll be watching for all kinds of bad driving behavior.
“It can be somebody traveling too fast, too slow, making their turns too wide,” said UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson.
Still, troopers will be watching extra closely for people not wearing their seat belts — something they characterize as a bigger problem than holiday drunks.
Somebody getting ejected from their vehicle and hitting the asphalt after traveling freeway speeds means certain death, Fuhr said. Of the 215 deaths on Utah roads last year, 67 people were not properly restrained, according to the Zero Fatalities website.
“I hope when Monday ends at midnight that we can have another zero — another zero fatality weekend,” Johnson said.
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