At least one traffic crash fatality is expected over Memorial Day weekend, based on past years’ trends, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
“We have not gone without a fatality on Memorial Day weekend,” Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) Lt. Ty Roberts said.
Memorial Day weekend begins the 100 deadliest days of travel on Utah roads, during which time fatal traffic crashes nearly double.
Memorial Day weekend is expected to cause significant delays in Moab at “prime times” that may cause a gridlock traffic pattern across Moab along U.S. Hwy. 191 and surrounding avenues.
“On Memorial Day weekend, it could take drivers 45 minutes to go from Highway 279 (Potash Road) by the bridge … to the south Maverick gas station,” Roberts said. That’s a distance of about three miles north to south on U.S. Hwy. 191.
At busy times, the highway becomes a notorious bottleneck where it drops from four lanes to two lanes between the north end of downtown Moab and the Colorado River bridge.
“If we do get into that bottleneck situation, we will talk to UDOT about modifying that traffic light at 5th West and U.S. Hwy. 191,” Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder said.
In the past, modifying the traffic lights — or just shutting them off — has helped to ease the traffic congestion, but it isn’t a total solution, and sometimes causes drivers to seek alternative routes through residential neighborhoods in Moab.
“We’re seeing significantly increased traffic on 500 West, which is the only other alternative, and that’s creating problems,” Winder said.
Winder said traffic entering and leaving Moab may also be heavily congested Sunday and Monday, May 27-28, as well.
“Our issues in Moab clearly are ensuring local travelers plan for heavy in- and outflows of traffic,” Winder said.
Each day, about 17,000 vehicles travel through Moab on U.S. Hwy. 191, according to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
Roberts said officers expect to see heavy traffic begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 24, and continue through the day on Friday, May 25.
“On Saturday, traffic could be backed up to Arches,” Roberts said. “That’s a possibility on Sunday, as well.”
In years past, traffic going into the entrance at Arches National Park has backed up onto U.S. Hwy. 191, causing delays outside of the City of Moab, Roberts said.
HIGHWAY PATROL’S “BORDER TO BORDER” INITIATIVE
To make interstates safer during Memorial Day weekend, Roberts said the UHP is engaged in a multi-state traffic safety initiative called Border to Border. UHP and state highway patrols in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming and Colorado are focusing enforcement efforts on speed, seat belts and distracted drivers through June 3.
“We want to make a better effort to get people to buckle up and slow down a little bit,” Roberts said.
Highway enforcement of speed, seat belts and distracted driving will continue into the summer for the 100 deadliest days of summer, Roberts said.
Roberts said the most frequent fatal crash accident the UHP responds to is when a driver drifts left over the center line, over-corrects to the right, rolls and crashes.
In 2017, Grand County had seven additional fatal traffic deaths over 2016, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
As people travel across the country, Roberts said drivers become fatigued, but continue to drive, increasing the chance of causing a fatal accident.
As UHP, UDOT, and the Moab City Police Department continue to monitor traffic over the holiday weekend, the Grand County EMS remains on-call to respond to fatal accidents.
“Our current call volume is up 30 percent this year so far, and pushes our services resources to the limits,” said McKay Vowles, clinical and outreach coordinator at Grand County EMS (GCEMS).
GCEMS has responded to 66 motor vehicle accidents this year, nine of which included fatalities, Vowles said.
LOOK OUT FOR MOTORCYCLES
“For us, it has been a particularly bad year for motorcycles,” Vowles said.
Grand County has seen two motorcycle fatalities in 2018.
“Anytime a rider goes down, all riders feel a collective kick in the gut as we understand how vulnerable we are on our bikes,” Samantha Bonsack, the owner of Nut-up Motorcycle Riding Events, said.
In April, a Colorado man died in a fatal crash after riding a motorcycle on State Route 128 and veering off the roadway to the right. The man’s widow told a Colorado media outlet that the fatal crash occurred because he had been distracted by his phone.
Tara Gill, director of state programs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., works on trying to get optimal traffic safety laws passed in every state. She said the traffic safety laws her agency proposes are based on documented, researched and proven ways to reduce fatalities in traffic accidents.
“We know that motorcycles are the most dangerous mode of transportation to begin with, and when you couple that with dangerous behavior like texting and driving, it amplifies the potential for a deadly outcome,” Gill said. “Utah does not have an all-rider motorcycle law, and that just means, where every rider on the road is required to wear a helmet … you are missing that law.”
Bonsack said motorcyclists can help to reduce the risk of being in a traffic accident by making themselves seen. Bonsack suggests motorcyclists use high-beams, position themselves in the lane to increase the ability for other drivers to see them and use hand signals with turn signals.
“Ninety-eight percent of multiple vehicle collisions and 96 percent of single vehicle accidents result in injury to the rider. Motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than someone in a car, and five times as likely to be hurt. Basically, if you go down, you’re going to get hurt,” Bonsack said.
“For motorcycle riders, please remember to wear all of your safety gear and slow it down. For everyone else on the road, please keep an eye out, and double check your blind spots,” Vowles said.
Gill said driving slower may help to reduce the risk of accidents for out-of-state travelers.
“Utah has all of those beautiful parks that are so enticing to the visitors and that’s why we all want to come, but Utah speeds are really high, and people aren’t used to driving that fast,” she said.
Delays, traffic gridlock and safety hazards likely over Memorial Day holiday
“On Memorial Day weekend, it could take drivers 45 minutes to go from Highway 279 (Potash Road) by the bridge … to the south Maverick gas station.”