'It's a no-win situation.' Awareness campaign launched ahead of state's new road rage law

The Utah Department of Public Safety and law enforcers from other agencies on Thursday stood in front of the state Capitol to launch a new campaign aimed at making drivers aware of a new road rage law that goes into effect on July 1.

The Utah Department of Public Safety and law enforcers from other agencies on Thursday stood in front of the state Capitol to launch a new campaign aimed at making drivers aware of a new road rage law that goes into effect on July 1. (Issac Hale, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Peter Salm still gets choked up as he remembers the day he and his wife decided to go for a drive.

The couple was on state Route 73 near Eagle Mountain Boulevard on June 4, 2023, when they came across a road closure due to a crash. As they took a detour and began driving along the west side of Utah Lake, Salm received a call that his brother, Rodney Salm, 48, had been killed in a car crash.

Peter Salm then realized that he had just passed the aftermath of his brother's crash. He later learned that both his brother and his wife, 47-year-old Michaela Himmelberger, were killed in the incident that allegedly started as a road rage confrontation between two other drivers. Police say Rodney Salm and his wife were innocent bystanders and not involved in the road rage.

"Road rage, people just don't think about the consequences. They get caught up by their egos, their anger. They're upset with somebody for doing something they thought shouldn't have happened. They don't understand the impact," Peter Salm said Thursday while standing in front of the south steps of the state Capitol. "It's not a pretty picture for anybody. It's genuinely one of those things that ruins a lot of lives."

On Thursday, Salm joined the Utah Department of Public Safety and law enforcers from several agencies to help launch a new campaign aimed at making drivers aware of a new road rage law that goes into effect on July 1.

Utah lawmakers passed a law during this past legislative session that not only defines what road rage is but enhances the penalties for anyone convicted of road rage. The penalties can be increased up to a third-degree felony. For example, a class A misdemeanor traffic violation could be bumped to a third-degree felony if investigators determine the alleged crime was the result of road rage.

Utah Highway Patrol Col. Mike Rapich says crimes already charged as second-degree or first-degree felonies likely would not be enhanced. But drivers could be charged with a road rage crime because, according to Rapich, collecting data on road rage in Utah is a big goal of the new law.

"What we're addressing here is the worst of driving behavior and the worst actions that come from those incidents. And it's absolutely unacceptable," Rapich said.

According to the Utah Highway Patrol, based on data collected from six of the department's main dispatch centers, road rage in Utah has increased from a reported 565 incidents in 2020 to 747 last year. The Department of Public Safety says fatalities due to aggressive driving are up 108% since 2017; reports of drivers brandishing weapons at other drivers are up 15% since 2020; and calls to emergency dispatchers reporting alleged "road rage" are up 32% since 2020.

With the new law, Rapich says the UHP will have an easier way to collect data on where road rage is happening in Utah and how frequently, and develop strategies to combat it.

The enhanced penalties under the new law could result in higher fines, a suspended driver's license and an offender's car being impounded. The bill was sponsored by Utah Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

"I hope nobody gets charged under this new law. Why? Because I hope people will appeal to their higher angel. I hope people will be good citizens. I hope people will take a deep breath and respect the rights of other drivers," he said.

Weiler encourages drivers to "be the bigger person," and if someone cuts them off, "let others make a mistake without retaliation."

Salm agrees and says it's his understanding that the man who faces a manslaughter charge accusing him of causing the crash that killed his brother is struggling over what happened.

"It's a no-win situation all the way around. And the saddest part of the whole thing is it could have stopped any time before the accident," he said.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.

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