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Icy roads, fast driving contribute to several accidents, police say


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SALT LAKE CITY — It's been days since the last winter storm hit Utah, but drivers are still winding up in weather-related crashes.

Freezing fog became a problem Tuesday, but the guardians of Utah's roads said they had bigger concerns.

"Believe it or not, in some ways the weather is more predictable than people," said Utah Department of Transportation maintenance engineer Lee Nitchman.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers said drivers are not making life easy on themselves, despite repeated warnings to pay attention, know their driving ability and to slow down.

"To bang that home - if you could figure out a way to do it, you'd probably be a millionaire," said Trooper Gary Perea during a ride-along with a KSL crew.

The latest case in point came Tuesday morning in the area of I-215 and I-80 on the west side.

"Fog was heavy, the roads were icy," Perea said.

Freezing fog had laid down a thin coating of ice, and Highway Patrol responded to about 10 crashes in just over an hour's time in that small area of the Salt Lake valley.

Perea said drivers routinely travel too fast for conditions — even if they are driving below the speed limit. He said UDOT also tries to spare drivers some grief when the fog surrounds them like pea soup.

"We have a fog patrol," Nitchman said. "They go out and they do what we call ‘fog-busting.'"

Nitchman said crews go "fog-busting" every night fog is expected, and they also regularly go out on "ice patrols," looking over higher elevations and around bridges.

"They drive their trucks with compressed CO2 and they spray that in the air," Nitchman said about the fog patrols. "It condenses the fog in that area and it falls on the road and it's followed with plows that will spray brine."

UDOT officials admit, though, despite all they can do while combing 17,000 miles of road in the state, they can't save drivers from themselves.

It's another reason why — despite rain, hail, sleet, snow or freezing fog — that the Highway Patrol is staying on message and telling drivers to slow speeds, increase following distance, and pay attention.

Until people listen, Perea said troopers are preparing for more bad weather days full of crashes.

"Pack a lunch, because I'm not going to get a lunch," he said.

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Andrew Adams

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