Weekend lesson we can all learn from
The difference driving in the canyon on U.S. Highway 6 this past weekend was amazing. I made the trip twice and I found quite a difference from other times I have travelled it.
The difference, I am sure, was due to all the publicity about the police presence in the canyon. In talking to many local residents and some of my family members who also travelled it, most saw a big difference, but I was lucky enough to be able to measure the "before and after" of the situation within a few hours of each other.
That was because Thursday I was able to travel over the road at about 7 a.m. to cover the first meeting of the officers who would be doing the extra enforcement for the four day period from then until Sunday night. That meeting was to take place near Covered Bridge Road at about mile post 180. I drove all but about four miles of the canyon to get there.
Since I knew what was coming up, I decided to try an experiment, and unscientific one, but one nonetheless. I decided on the way over I would set my cruise control at 60 m.p.h. and try to hold it there through the canyon just to see what people around me would do. In some areas the limit is normally 55 and in others it is 65. Most is posted at about 60. Of course in the construction zone that is presently set up I stayed with whatever was posted.
If found at 6 a.m. in the morning and driving at 60 m.p.h. almost everyone who came up on me from behind passed me. Some reluctantly, some confidently and some at such a high rate of speed it was like a blur. Absolutely every vehicle that came upon me passed me as soon as they could, many on double yellow lines or on curves.
That evening I after doing some other business in Utah County I drove back across the canyon to come home. It was fairly late and the traffic was light. Most people passed me, I think because they realized that the increased enforcement was mostly being done during the day. A few that passed me were out of state cars. None hung behind me.
On Friday I went over to Spanish Fork to cover Carbon's baseball team at the state tournament. That was about 2:30 p.m... I set the cruise once again on 60 m.p.h.. I have to say it was probably the most pleasant drive I have ever had in the canyon. No one tailgated me; no one passed me going 90; I had no near head on collisions. I saw three highway patrol cars on this side of the summit and fifteen units on the other side. Obviously people were obeying the law because they feared getting caught.
I had some things to do in Salt Lake and Ogden over the weekend so I stayed overnight and came back on Saturday evening after the increase enforcement was slowed down a bit. A few more cars passed me, but most were from out of state, mostly from Colorado. However, almost all the Utah plates I saw were going the speed limit or under. In fact some people were driving 45-50 miles per hour which is almost as irritating as those that go 80.
Just before I reached Soldiers Summit it had just hailed and snowed. A couple of cars were off to the side, but most continued on.
After speaking to officials at the highway patrol Monday morning, no injury accidents had occurred at all in the canyon over the weekend. We generally don't see someone killed every weekend, but we do see injury accidents most of the time. This weekend there were none.
While it is true this was not a holiday weekend like Memorial Day, Labor Day or many of the other busy holidays, it was also not a weekend in which nothing was going on either. Many people travelled because of the state baseball and softball tournament, the state track meet at BYU, the state Democratic and Republican conventions and of course it was Mother's Day too. So it wasn't your typical, run of the mill, Wasatch Plateau crossing weekend. It was busy.
Now I understand that this increased enforcement can't continue; the highway patrol doesn't have the money nor the manpower to do so. But it has taught us a valuable lesson, something even those who didn't drive this highway over the weekend should consider.
That lesson is that if we drive with courtesy and at the speed limit, and make good decisions when we drive, this road, always proclaimed to be "one of the most dangerous highways in America" can be turned from a ferocious lion into a purring cat. That doesn't mean it still can use improvement; but it does mean that many of the problems on the road are created by us, the motoring public.
There was a time in my life when I spent many hours on various back roads in different parts of the country. That doesn't qualify me as an expert by any means, but in my opinion Highway 6 through the canyon is not even near the worst road I have driven in terms of design or upkeep. In fact, for a mountain road it is really good. Just try some other roads and you will see what I mean.
Try state highway 299 in Northern California between Redding and Arcata, for one instance. A winding, heavily traveled road that is narrow and where everyone drives 90 because they just left Interstate 5.
Or how about stater road 3 in Maine between South China and Belfast. A winding country road that is mostly between hills, but cuts dramatically on each turn and lulls you to sleep until the next turn.
Or what about Route XX between Waukesha and Interstate 43 in southern Wisconsin? Pay attention there or you may end up in a barn or one of the many lakes along the route. This is also one place where "slow" farmer drivers don't exist; everyones in a hurry to get to Milwaukee.
I could go on and on about roads I have followed from Georgia to Minnesota and from New Hampshire to El Paso that could kill you or at least maim you if you take your eyes off the road. But what I know about these roads, as bad as some of them are, is that if I drive according to the local conditions (that means the weather and the design of the road) and follow the signs, and when other people are following the rules too, I will always make it home okay.
Maybe because of the heavier enforcement this weekend, someone who would have died, didn't. Maybe some people got to the mall or their kids baseball game five minutes later too. That's a fair trade-off, isn't it.
In the coming weeks when this enforcement thing starts to wear off, you can bet all the crazy stuff we have seen in the canyon will return. Some will go back to their old ways. I just hope a few of us learned enough to save a few lives and prevent a few injuries.