State Highway Patrol wants to change laws to help reduce road rage

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    By RUSS HILL

    They hide in the fast lane waiting for another driver to lose their cool.

    All of a sudden, the patrol car spots a driver punching the accelerator, swerving through two lanes of traffic, and then slamming on the brakes — forcing another motorist to take drastic action in order to avoid an accident.

    The officer flips on the lights and the violator is pulled over. One more road-rage offender off the road, making it a good day for fighting road rage.

    The Utah Department of Public Safety is urging state lawmakers to put full-time road rage warriors on the highways.

    “Yesterday, I was on the radio for about an hour and a half and I heard three calls for reckless driving,” said DPS Captain Ken Bryant.

    It is illegal in Utah for highway patrol troopers to use unmarked cars for anything but ongoing investigations, Bryant said. The DPS is trying to change that. They are lobbying the state Transportation Interim Committee to draft legislation that would allow highway patrol troopers to sit in unmarked cars and look for road-rage offenders.

    “People need to be held responsible for controlling their own tempers,” said state Sen. Peter C. Knudson, who is co-chair of the transportation committee. He said one concern he has about allowing the unmarked cars to be used is manpower.

    “The highway patrol is understaffed in every region of this state,” Knudson said. He questioned how troopers could be assigned to watch for road rage, when they are already overloaded with work.

    “We understand that until safety on the freeways becomes an issue with the populace, we’ll just have to do the best we can with our resources,” Bryant said.

    In addition to taking a look at whether to change the current law that restricts the use of unmarked police cars, the state Transportation Interim Committee is considering toughening the penalties for repeat offenders. Under law, a person found guilty of a first offense of reckless driving faces a minimum of five days in jail and a $25 fine, Bryant said.

    Knudson said his committee will continue to study what changes should be made to current laws in order to reduce the amount of temper tantrums on the freeways. Lawmakers are reviewing programs in other states where troopers are using unmarked cars to watch for road rage to see what could be effective here.

    “The programs have be extremely successful in Arizona and California,” Bryant said.

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