Labor Day holiday driving dangers marked

Aug 31 2013 - 8:51am

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It may be a holiday weekend, but not for law enforcement officers who worked on Friday watching for impaired, drowsy, distracted and aggressive drivers.

Labor Day weekend traditionally ranks as the second-highest holiday for fatalities in Utah, following the Fourth of July. Over the past 10 years, there have been 39 deaths due to fatigue, impaired driving, hazardous driving, speeding and not using seat belts, according to the Utah Public Safety website.

It also marks the end of the 100 deadliest days on the highways, said Utah Highway Patrol Corporal Todd Johnson.

"We want this weekend to be zero fatalities and that is why we will have every available trooper out patrolling and enforcing," Johnson said.

This year there have 47 fatal crashes as of July 31, according to the Utah Highway Patrol website. In 2011 there were a total of 117 fatal crashes and in 2012 there were a total of 102 fatal crashes.

Johnson said people need to have a designated driver or plan to take a taxi home, if they are going to consume alcohol.

"If someone is impaired and they get pulled over, the chances are very high they will be arrested and booked in jail," Johnson said.

Johnson said too many accidents are still occurring because people cannot stop using their cell phones.

"We depend on these devices and they are part of our lives, but if you need to talk on them or text, pull over," Johnson said. "There is a potential of crashing if you don't."

And because drivers are human, there will be crashes this weekend. Johnson said drivers and passengers can minimize serious injuries by using seat belts and child restraint seats properly.

Troopers will also watch for aggressive driving, which includes following too close to other vehicles and swerving in and out of lanes.

Drivers also need to be aware if they are getting drowsy, Johnson said.

A 20-minute to 30-minute nap may mean a late start or arrival, but arriving late is better than being injured. Having someone to share the driving can also help, he said.

Some people will also head to the mountains for outdoor recreation, which increases the chance of encountering wildlife on the roads. Johnson said large wildlife, like deer and moose, generally cross roads either at night or early morning.

It's a good idea to "sweep your eyes back and forth and look at the edges of the road," he said. That half second when a driver spots a large animal can make a difference.

And if a deer dashes in front of a driver, the driver should brake and not swerve, "because the driver can lose control of the vehicle and that causes secondary problems, like a rollover," Johnson said.

Drivers trying to beat trains at railroad crossings have resulted in 271 people dead and 930 injured nationwide in 2012, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The Department of Transportation studied accident reports during a 10-year period and found 94 percent of public grade crossing accidents were caused by risky driver behavior, such as driving around activated automatic gates.

Union Pacific is asking drivers and pedestrians this Labor Day weekend to use caution. Always look both ways before crossing a railroad crossing, do not try to beat approaching trains and avoid distractions, like loud music, texting or using cell phones when crossing the railroad tracks.

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