Summit County Sheriff’s Office leery of bill that would allow drivers to go through red lights
February 21, 2019
Summit County law enforcement officials are cautiously watching a new bill in the Utah Legislature that would allow drivers to run red lights if there is no other traffic around.
The bill, H.B. 151, would allow drivers to go through an intersection after coming to a complete stop for at least 90 seconds if there are no other vehicles approaching.
Lt. Andrew Wright, of the Summit County Sheriff's Office, said the agency is concerned with the bill. Wright sits on the Summit County Legislative Committee.
"I've heard people talk about it in general conversation that it doesn't make sense to wait three minutes when you are the only vehicle on the roadway," he said. "But, I really think there are other ways of addressing people sitting at a stoplight for a couple minutes at 2 a.m."
The measure would only allow people to run red lights in situations where they are waiting at an intersection on roads where the speed limit is 55 mph or lower. But, Wright said several other factors should be taken into consideration, such as speeding and impairment.
Wright said drivers in Summit County often exceed the speed limit by 10 or even 15 mph, especially on S.R. 224, where the posted speed limit is 55 mph along certain stretches of the road. He said the possibility of impaired drivers utilizing the option to run red lights is also worrisome.
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"On S.R. 224 there are blind corners or inclined grades which can create a line-of-sight issue," he said. "You also will be giving people the authority to calculate what, in their mind, is an appropriate 90-second timeframe. If you have someone that is impaired on a depressant, time moves slower. Or if someone is on a substance where it's been five seconds, but it feels like it's been 90."
Another point that makes the Sheriff's Office leery whether emergency responders were taken into consideration. Emergency vehicles are allowed to proceed through intersections after dramatically lowering their speeds.
"If we are running to a high-priority call and we are running lights, what if someone had been waiting there and decides to proceed before seeing us?" he said. "That is a whole other safety issue because the reality is we are authorized to travel well above the speed limit."
However, Wright said the ability to run red lights may present less of a safety hazard in rural areas, such as Kamas or Coalville, where the speeds are much lower and there is better visibility. But, he added, "So many factors can still come into play."
"I just feel like a lot of things can be done other than allowing people to run red lights," he said. "If they are sitting there and the light doesn't change, can't something be done with the technology for better detection of motion?"
Janna Young, Summit County's deputy county manager, said in an email the county opposes the bill because there are "some intersections that we have that we don't think would ever be safe for someone to run a red light."
"Even some that drivers can't safely make that determination," she wrote.
Young said Wright will be working with Caroline Rodriguez, Summit County's regional transportation planning director, on parameters county officials would like to see added to the bill as it moves forward.
Last week, the House of Representatives Transportation Committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation, with a vote of 7-4. If it successfully passes out of the House, it will be introduced in the Senate. Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, is the bill's sponsor. Ivory did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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