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Recent uptick in wrong-way drivers on interstate a concern for troopers

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Highway Patrol is seeing a disturbing trend: drivers heading the wrong way at freeway speeds.

“It’s unfortunately very common,” UHP Sgt. Donavan Lucas said Friday. “Why? I don’t know. The on-ramps and off-ramps are pretty self-explanatory.”

It’s a trend that is a real danger to public safety and officers.

During a three-day stretch last month, from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9, state troopers responded to six calls of drivers heading into oncoming traffic on the interstate. Three of the drivers were arrested for investigation of DUI.

Around 2 a.m. on Feb. 9, Lucas positioned his cruiser to meet a wrong-way driver going 70 mph on southbound I-15. The driver covered more than six miles, narrowly missing unsuspecting motorists. Lucas braced himself and deployed spikes.

The driver hit the spikes instead of the cruiser, and another trooper stopped the reckless driver with a PIT maneuver.

“Somebody that’s impaired doesn’t have any idea of what they’re doing or where they’re going,” Lucas said.

The troopers train for this procedure to help protect motorists on Utah’s roads.

“A lot of them are heroic actions, where they are willing to take a person head-on,” UHP Capt. Steve Winward said. “The troopers are taking a lot of aggressive action to get these vehicles stopped before it hurts or kills anybody else.”

UHP is testing a new way to stop drivers. Instead of getting out in the middle of the road and putting spikes down to try to stop a vehicle, Lucas used the new MobileSpike system to stop that car on I-15.

"I can be driving, pull up alongside the suspect vehicle, press a button, it shoots out, vehicle runs over it, and we stop the pursuit in a few minutes,” he explained.

It takes just seconds to deploy, and, according to its website, the MobileSpike causes a controlled deflation of the tire in less than a minute, which brings the vehicle to a stop safely.

The trooper doesn’t have to be very close to use the blade. They just have to pull up as if they were going to pass, and then hit the button.

Troopers don’t know why they are seeing more and more drivers going the wrong way on roads, but they hope more public awareness will prevent deaths. Don’t drink and drive, they warn, and if a law enforcement vehicle has its flashing lights on, pull over safely and quickly.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com