SALT LAKE CITY — There is a strong belief among most drivers that they won't get pulled over for going 5 to 7 mph over the speed limit.
But the Utah Highway Patrol says no more.
UHP Sgt. Nick Street said the department’s top brass has instructed troopers to start pulling drivers over for speeding, no matter how little they are going over the speed limit.
“Our administrators said we need to have zero tolerance for anything above 70 or 80 mph, respectively to where those speed limits are implemented,” he said.
The final straw was the chaos that happened on Utah’s freeways during two snowstorms over the week of Thanksgiving. Troopers responded to nearly 950 crashes, including 10 that involved their own patrol cars being hit by other motorists.
The UHP believes part of the problem is that drivers are simply accustomed to comfortably going up to 10 mph over the speed limit. So when troopers ask drivers to “slow down” during inclement weather, they actually only slow down to the posted speed limit.
“And we absolutely can’t have that,” Street said. “And from what I’ve observed, that’s a good majority of the people. We need to start making it clear that that 70 mph along the Wasatch Front in our urban populations is absolutely a maximum. And that 80 mph speed in our rural areas is absolutely a maximum speed.
“The problem that we’ve seen over the last few snowstorms kind of stems from those July sunny days and people realizing they got away with going 5 to 9 over. And now we don’t want people to have that mindset. We need to get a cultural shift across the state that that 80 mph is the fair weather, perfect day speed limit. If it’s anything other than that, you need to be going slower than that maximum speed,” he said.
On average, UHP troopers pull over 300 motorists a day statewide for speeding, he said. Troopers tend to pull over the most egregious offenders who are going at least 15 mph over the speed limit, Street said.
“That’s easy to do because it’s so prevalent,” he said.
But all of the other drivers on the road also became more comfortable with speeding during that time, Street said. While he admits that cars are safer today and roads are designed to be safer, the view of the UHP is that speed limits are high enough.
“It’s one of those things where that speed is absolutely a maximum,” he said. “Because we’re looking for those egregious offenders, and there are plenty of them out there, those that are 10 to 15 over, even some that are much higher than that, we’ve kind of culturally put ourselves in a bad spot.”