Justin Koyle says it's not a matter of "if" he and his co-workers are going to get hit, it's simply a matter of when.
Koyle, who drives up and down Utah's freeways every day looking for debris that needs to be moved out of the road, was hit Wednesday morning — the second time in his career it has happened to him.
On Wednesday, Koyle was driving into work as a member of the Utah Department of Transportation's Incident Management Team. He was heading north on I-15 near Spanish Fork when he noticed a large box on the freeway. Koyle pulled off to the shoulder and called his dispatch center to report it, then waited for a Utah Highway Patrol trooper to arrive to slow down traffic before he ventured onto the freeway to get the box out of the road.
But as he was waiting, a woman came up on the debris too fast, tried to swerve out of the way, but ended up losing control of her vehicle and slid into Koyle's truck. Koyle, who was still sitting in the driver's seat with a seat belt on, watched the whole thing unfold in his rearview mirror.
"I did feel the impact. It was a pretty hard hit," he said. "Her fender was stuck in the bumper of my truck."
No one was seriously injured in the incident. But ironically, it happened just before UDOT, the UHP and others were scheduled to hold a press conference in Murray to encourage drivers once again to slow down and move over.
On Wednesday, Gov. Spencer Cox signed a declaration as part of Crash Responder Safety Week, recognizing the efforts of everyone who has to step out of their vehicles onto the freeway as part of their jobs while responding to an accident or debris on the road — from law enforcement and other first responders to UDOT crews and even tow truck drivers.
The declaration reminds all drivers of the "Move Over" law in Utah which requires motorists to move out of the adjacent lane when passing an emergency vehicle, or to slow down if the driver is unable to move over a lane.
"Whether it's a crash scene or whether it's a car broken down on the side of the road that's waiting for a tow truck, or whether it's UDOT workers working on the side of the road doing regular maintenance, cars need to slow down as they're approaching these scenes and, if they're able, move over a lane, giving them that extra cushion," said UHP Sgt. Cameron Roden.
"If it pretty much has red, blue or amber lights that are flashing, you need to make sure you slow down and move over."
Over the past three years, 155 people nationwide who responded to a crash or other emergency on the freeway have been hit and killed by another driver, Roden said.
Just last week, Roden said one of his troopers was hit on I-215. And with the arrival of winter and slick roads, he said the UHP is once again reminding drivers to slow down and not be distracted while driving by items such as a cellphone.
To emphasize the dangers that first responders can experience on the freeway, the wrecked patrol car of UHP trooper Brandon Mortensen has been used for nearly two years as a visual reminder of what can happen when drivers are careless. On New Year's morning, 2021, Mortensen was parked on the shoulder of I-15 in Weber County when a suspected impaired driver drifted out of his lane and smashed into Mortensen’s patrol car from behind. Both the trooper and the driver suffered minor injuries. The heavily damaged patrol car is now used as a teaching tool to remind drivers to slow down and is often put on display in public areas.
Last year, 23 troopers were hit while stopped on the freeway. Roden said so far this year, there have been 12 trooper vehicles hit.
For Koyle, he would also like drivers to slow down and pay attention.
"They think it's 80 mph every day, regardless (of conditions)," he said. "We worry every day that the traveling public is not paying attention to us."
Koyle and his co-workers have seen everything from washing machines to riding lawnmowers left in the middle of the freeway after apparently falling off of someone's vehicle. And with ski season here, he expects to start seeing a lot of skis and snowboards on the road that were not secured properly on top of someone's car.
In addition to securing loads, he also encourages drivers to simply move over and watch what's in the road ahead.
"We do see a lot of distracted driving as we're driving around looking for debris," he said. "We put our lives on the line every day to serve the public as we do our daily job. ... If you see our lights, slow down and move over."