SOUTH JORDAN Mary Wenner doesn't remember watching the stoplight at 10400 South and Bangerter Highway turn green.
She can't recall the impact of a truck plowing into her SUV a few seconds later or the two weeks before the accident on Sept. 11, 2003, deleted portions of her memory and sent her and her husband to the hospital in critical condition. The couple are lucky to be alive, but Wenner says she's still feeling the aftershocks of that debilitating wreck and she believes it could have been prevented.
So does South Jordan's City Council. That's why the city took an unusual step this week by unanimously approving a resolution that asks Utah's Department of Transportation to install advance warning systems at all of the city's intersections with Bangerter Highway. A light would warn motorists that they are nearing an intersection.
"It boils down to trying to save lives and to save the heartbreak that comes from parents and grandparents having to suffer that kind of loss," City Councilwoman Leona Winger said. "Do we think we can end all of the problems of people running the lights? Of course not. But if we can help reduce the number of accidents and help save lives, that's what we're trying to do."
In February, another vehicle ran a red light at 10400 South and crashed into an SUV. But this time, a young mother and a 10-year-old were critically injured, and a 4-year-old was killed. The little girl's grandfather recently asked the City Council in an emotional meeting to do something to help prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future and the council passed its resolution two weeks later.
"This was a pretty touching thing to all of us," Winger said. "I think safety is the number one responsibility cities have to their residents. We're trying to do everything we can to provide good transportation facilities and keep people as safe as possible."
The resolution asks UDOT to install advance warning systems at 11400 South, 10400 South and 9800 South on Bangerter Highway, but city manager Rick Horst says that's as far as the city can go. Bangerter Highway is a state road, under UDOT's jurisdiction, and the transportation agency will ultimately make the decision on whether advance warning lights should be installed.
That question is not a simple one, said UDOT director of traffic and safety Robert Hull. UDOT is studying its currently installed advance warning lights to see if they have a positive impact, but a number of criteria such as which intersections warrant having a warning system and where the systems can be installed most effectively are yet to be established.
On top of that, Hull says the warning systems have a negative trade-off. The systems are effective in reducing the number of accidents that occur from drivers running red lights, but it increases the number of rear-end accidents.
Accidents caused by drivers running red lights tend to be more severe than rear-end accidents, Hull said.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to these advance warning signs," Hull said. "The important thing we need to recognize here is we have signals that people run the light on, for whatever reason, so behavior is adding to this issue. The same would still be true if we put in these advance warning signs. We're giving the driver the information that conditions will change, but we still have to rely on the driver to make the best decision."
Hull said UDOT will immediately look at the three locations suggested by South Jordan and decide if there are viable alternatives to improving the intersections' safety.
In the meantime, Wenner, a former South Jordan city councilwoman, says more advance warning systems on Bangerter Highway are a must. Her family was hit by a driver who said he couldn't slow down once he saw the light was red there wasn't enough time."I would much rather have had a rear-end accident," Wenner said. "Bumper-to-bumper wouldn't have been a problem, but when you almost kill someone, you have to decide if your system is working properly ... My family still feels the impact of that tragedy and probably always will. I don't think it will ever go away for us."
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