Utah peace officers in the past five years were involved in 3,000 traffic accidents, and the state's police academy is implementing a program to prevent officers and citizens from getting killed or injured.

The most recent Legislature put aside $1.5 million, from a surplus in the victim- reparation fund, to pay for a track to teach officers how to handle their vehicles and themselves in driving situations."It's not something that POST wants. It's something that the whole law enforcement community wants and needs," said Clyde Palmer, director of the Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training academy.

A collision in December that killed three Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs responding to a call for help from a fellow officer highlighted Utah's need to establish a driver training facility for officers.

A survey of police chiefs and sheriffs showed 48 percent thought specialized driver training was the top priority for law enforcement, Palmer said. The remainder ranked it as needed for officers.

Utah is one of the few states without a facility for training officers in heavy traffic and pursuit situations, Palmer said Monday.

Cadets were allowed to use the Bonneville Raceway in western Salt Lake County to learn to drive, Palmer said. But the different weights and designs of police vehicles were tearing up the track, and raceway officials withdrew their offer to POST for free use of the area.

The Salt Lake Airport Authority has allowed POST free run of an abandoned strip of North Temple, but Palmer said the stretch is straight and small.

With money provided by the Legislature for site-selection studies, POST is examining land at Camp Williams and the airport as possible locations. The track would be built to specifications to simulate high-speed and obstacle driving.

"We're not talking about letting police out there and driving hundreds of miles an hour," said Palmer, adding, "High-speed chases aren't usually high speed.

"What we're looking at as much as anything is to demonstrate to the officer the dynamics of the car and what it will or will not do at high speeds," said Palmer.

"What we're trying to teach them is the object is not to catch that person but to stay with the person until he does something to stop the chase" - such as crashing or running out of gas.

But the track most likely won't be ready until 1991. POST must return to the Legislature next year with the results of the site-selection studies and to ask for the rest of the money to build the track.

Accident-prone?

- 3,000 accidents involving Utah officers were reported from 1983 to 1988.

- 380 people were injured, including 218 officers.

- Nine deaths were reported stemming from accidents involving officers. Two officers died.

- In Salt Lake City, nine officers were injured in 13 traffic accidents during 1987. Three people were injured in 27 pursuits, including one officer injury.

- In 1988, Salt Lake police were involved in 55 pursuits, resulting in 12 injuries and no officer injuries. In 1989 to date, six pursuits, no injuries.