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UHP, trucking companies partner to raise safety awareness

Published: Friday, April 4 2014 5:12 p.m. MDT

Truck driver Alvino Mcghee, left, talks with Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Randy Allred during a safety event sponsored Friday, April 4, 2014, by the newly formed Uintah Basin Oil Transportation Coalition. The inaugural event, held at a rest area on U.S. 40 near Fruitland, Duchesne County, gave truck drivers and troopers a chance to talk about issues they see on Utah's roads.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

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FRUITLAND, Duchesne County — A recently created coalition of trucking companies held its first event Friday in Duchesne County, working with the Utah Highway Patrol to promote safe driving practices among those who drive tractor-trailer trucks.

The Uintah Basin Oil Transportation Coalition, formed in mid-March, hosted a voluntary "Stand Down for Safety," inviting commercial truck drivers to stop off at the rest area on U.S. 40 east of Fruitland.

"We have ongoing safety meetings (and) tailgate meetings on a regular basis," said Rick George, safety director for Iowa Tanklines. "This is just one more opportunity to get in front of our drivers and show them that we're really serious about safety and it's not just talk."

A multiagency transportation study, released in July, showed that an average of one tanker truck every three minutes leaves the Uintah Basin for the oil refineries on the Wasatch Front. That estimate doesn't include the thousands of commercial trucks that travel the region's roads hauling freight or providing services to the massive energy industry that drives the area's economy.

All that heavy truck traffic can lead to frustration for other drivers and may lead to unsafe driving practices that endanger commercial drivers and others.

"Trucks are big and slow, and everyone's in a hurry," George said. "We just want to encourage (other drivers) to give trucks space. It's incumbent on (truck drivers) to always be aware of their surroundings and to make allowances for those people that don't really give them the break or the space they need."

The coalition's formation comes following four deadly crashes involving tractor-trailer and tanker trucks in eastern Utah in less than four months.

Cody Smith, 54, died Jan. 12, after his truck collided with the rear axle of a trailer being hauled by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck on U.S. 40 near Myton, according to the UHP. The other truck's trailer may have been blown into the oncoming lane by high winds, troopers said.

• On Jan. 30, icy roads contributed to a crash that killed Dean Paul Townsend on Parriette Road near the junction with U.S. 40 in Myton, UHP said. Townsend, 49, died when the driver of a tanker truck lost traction as he descended a hill on the two-lane road and one of his trailers rolled onto the Roosevelt man's pickup truck, troopers said.

• Four days later, Monte S. Mitchell died in a crash with a tractor-trailer truck near Split Mountain Travel Plaza east of Naples in Uintah County. Investigators later determined that Mitchell, 36, intentionally drove into the path of the truck and ruled his death a suicide.

Craig L. Batchelor, 51, died in a March 17 crash with a tanker truck on U.S. 40 near Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County. Troopers said the Vernal man was speeding in near whiteout conditions when his pickup truck crossed the center line and crashed into the oncoming tanker truck.

UHP troopers, Utah Department of Transportation employees and medical helicopter crews from Classic Lifeguard were all on hand Friday in Fruitland to talk with the truck drivers who stopped in for the coalition's daylong event. UHP Sgt. Brett Gehring said the agency supports the group's mission.

"I see a definite relationship between the coalition and the highway patrol in the future," he said.

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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