SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol officers were originally guided by road experience and instincts in making arrests and patrolling holiday traffic. Now, they are governed by science and data to prevent fatalities during holiday weekends.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers — just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend — spoke publicly for the first time about their new approach to road enforcement utilizing a database of crash information.
"The whole philosophy is find out the problem areas, deploy the resources toward those areas and make it so everyone can arrive at their destination safely," said Col. Danny Fuhr, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol.
Fuhr said the UHP had been entering data from the past two-and-a-half years into its system, and troopers are now seeing the dividends.
Last year, the highway patrol recorded five death-free holiday weekends. So far this year, the first two holiday weekends have passed without a death. UHP officials said they see a correlation.
"We see a huge impact on crashes and fatals when we have this flooding of the roadway in specific crime-related or traffic-related areas," Fuhr said.
A second-straight non-fatal Memorial Day weekend would be unprecedented, troopers said. Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend has been one of the most deadly times on Utah roads, along with Halloween.
"I hope when Monday ends at midnight that we can have another zero - another zero fatality weekend."
Crash numbers from 2011 and 2012 have helped UHP officials formulate their plans of where to focus extra resources this year. In the Salt Lake Valley, Fuhr said saturation efforts were planned on I-80 near Parley's Canyon — where the intel shows speeding and non-buckling are significant issues — as well as generally along the I-15 corridor.
"We base everything that we do on data — so data as far as where the crash is occurring, where the crime is occurring and where the problem areas are around the state," Fuhr said.
About 300 troopers were expected to work extra shifts over the holiday weekend.
As the data shows driver behavior changing, UHP officials said the plan would be to re-focus saturation efforts on new traffic trouble areas.
As always, troopers this year said they'd be watching for all kinds of bad driving behavior.
"It can be somebody traveling too fast, too slow, making their turns too wide," said UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson.
Still, troopers said they'd be watching extra closely for non-bucklers — something they characterize as a bigger problem than holiday drunks.
Fuhr said somebody getting ejected from their vehicle and hitting the asphalt after going freeway speeds means certain death.
"I hope when Monday ends at midnight that we can have another zero — another zero fatality weekend," Johnson said.