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SALT LAKE CITY — If a car crashes on the interstate, has a mechanical break down, or runs out of gas, there's a good chance one of UDOT's Incident Management trucks will roll up to help.
"These people kind of parachute in and alleviate the stress of being stuck on the highway," said Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
They are the good Samaritans of Utah's urban interstates, and the UDOT Incident Management Team is celebrating its 20th year of helping get Utahns back on the road. They help motorists out of jams, keep traffic moving, and provide protection for crashes.
"You never know what you're going to come up on," said Jeff Reynolds, the statewide manager of the Incident Management program. He changed a tire for a stranded motorist this afternoon and got her back on her way in a matter of minutes.
Flat tires and crashes put motorists and emergency responders at risk on the side of the road, so Incident Management crews direct traffic to safeguard the scene.
"A lot of them say, 'You just saved my neck out here,' " Reynolds said.
That's what Reynolds and the other Incident Management crews do. They do not want anyone getting killed on the side of the road.
"It has happened," said Reynolds. "People have lost their life. A vehicle hit them trying to put gas into their vehicle."
"Really, our goal here is to work towards zero fatalities," Braceras said.
And they try to maintain mobility for all motorists.
"When we have a crash situation, or a car stalled on the side of the road, that creates slowing and creates secondary crashes," Braceras said.
Every minute that we can save by clearing a crash scene sooner will save five minutes in delay that will cascade back through the system.
–Carlos Braceras, UDOT executive director
Stalls and crashes can lead to more injuries and long delays for every minute they are on the road.
"Every minute that we can save by clearing a crash scene sooner will save five minutes in delay that will cascade back through the system," he said.
In 1994, UDOT rolled out two courtesy patrols to help motorists. Now, 14 units work the Wasatch Front from the Brigham City area to the Payson area, and another unit works the interstate in St. George. As the state population grows, UDOT's executive director said they will add more units.
"It's all about the safety of everyone on the roadways," Braceras said.
Reynolds and his co-workers will change a flat tire, give motorists gasoline, do small repairs and wait for a tow truck with stranded drivers. They even have advanced first-aid training.
Incident Management crews have handled 120,000 incidents during the last decade since they started keeping statistics. Reynolds said each driver averages eight to 15 incidents a day.
While Incident Management crews manage traffic on a crash, the Utah Highway Patrol can focus on crash investigation and helping any injured motorists.
"It allows them to focus on what they're really good at — that investigating portion, or the lifesaving activities, for a person in a crash," Braceras said.
UDOT asks all motorists to never pull over on the side of the freeway unless it's really an emergency. If you must get off the road, pull over to the right as far as you can or get off the interstate altogether if possible. But, if you are stuck on the shoulder, stay in the car and wait for help to get there. UDOT's traffic cameras help Incident Management Teams zero in on problems.
"They're a 24/7 operation," Braceras said. "So it doesn't matter if it's in the middle of the night. If we have an issue, these folks are on-call. They're out on the road to help protect the citizens."