The record number of Utah Highway Patrol vehicles involved in accidents this year has limited the resources troopers have at their disposal.
Sixteen troopers have been involved in accidents this year, compared to 12 in all of last year, UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson said.
Of the 16 UHP vehicles that have been in crashes, four were totalled, according to Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird. It typically takes two to five days for totalled cars to be replaced, while repairing damaged vehicles normally takes seven to 10 days.
If the UHP lost enough vehicles at one time, troopers would be forced to share cars or use older vehicles, Johnson said. During some of this winter’s storms, UHP has come close to having to use those options.
While either scenario would be inconvenient, Johnson said neither would damper the UHP’s ability to provide service to the public.
“We would do whatever is necessary,” he said.
However, State Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, who also serves as a UHP lieutenant, said there is some concern the highway patrol might not be able to operate at optimal efficiency when vehicles are out of commission.
“When we’re missing vehicles, we don’t have all the resources people need,” said Perry, who himself was hit in a Jan. 27 crash near the Utah-Idaho border. “It takes longer to provide help.”
Baird said insurance of the drivers at fault in the crashes covers the cost to replace or repair trooper vehicles. UHP did not have information available on the cost of replacements or repairs.
In response to the number of crashes involving its vehicles, UHP is planning to issue each trooper a collapsible sign they can display on the side of the road 500 to 800 yards ahead of where they’re parked to warn drivers of a crash ahead, Baird said. Troopers in the southeastern part of the state have been using similar signs for years.
Perry said the rise in accidents involving troopers has affected the way he approaches his job.
“It makes me think, ‘Do I even want to get out of my car and walk up?’ ” said Perry, who suffered a knee injury when his vehicle was hit. “It makes you think twice. I don’t want to be (accident) number seven, then be number 16 or 17.”
To reduce the risk of crashes on the side of the road, UHP last year began a campaign to encourage drivers to pull off the road or nearest exit after fender benders or accidents in which the car is still drivable, Johnson said. UHP also has instructed troopers to assist drivers in getting accidents off the road when possible.
Johnson said UHP has no way of tracking exactly how effective the campaign has been, but drivers, for the most part, have gotten the message. Some drivers, however, have worried they’ll get in trouble if they move their car from the scene of an accident. Instead, the top priority for troopers is ensuring safety.
Johnson attributed many of the crashes involving troopers to drivers not exercising proper precautions in inclement weather.
UHP recommends drivers slow down in slippery conditions. Additionally, drivers should trail at least three seconds behind vehicles ahead of them, look 10-12 seconds down the road to anticipate problem areas and slow down as soon as they see police lights.
“Inclement weather is no excuse,” Johnson said. “Common sense says even if it’s damp, reduce your speed.”
Vehicles getting stuck on the side of the road in winter weather exacerbate the danger for troopers, because they’re unable to move them from the road, Perry said. In those cases, there are limited options for troopers to improve safety while the vehicle is towed, making it even more important for drivers to be cautious.