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Police busy with crashes they say are preventable

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A crash on on July 13 at at the intersection of 17th Street and Woodruff Avenue in Idaho Falls. | Silas Wright, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — With the United States in the middle of its 100 deadliest days of driving, police in Idaho Falls have seen their fair share of crashes.

As of Monday, Idaho Falls police officers have responded to 227 crashes without injury, 56 with injury, and 69 hit-and-runs since Memorial Day. Across east Idaho, the first few weeks of July also brought multiple fatal crashes on the roads.

“All it takes is one moment that your eyes aren’t on the road, that you’re not paying attention, that you’re distracted,” IFPD spokeswoman Jessica Clements told EastIdahoNews.com.

Officer Jason Hendrian, with IFPD’s traffic unit, said that there is no time to drive distracted. Anything from looking at a phone for a few seconds to picking up a dropped toy in the back seat can lead a driver into a crash before even realizing it.

“It takes the average person one and a half seconds to realize that there is a problem to actually start reacting,” Hendrian said. “If you are going 35 mph and you have that one and a half seconds, your car travels almost 80 feet before you realize the problem. … It happens so quick.”

When roads have higher speed limits like Sunnyside Road at 40 mph, or a highway and interstate, the distance traveled only increases. Road designers establish speed limits after looking at factors that impact safety.

“People see the speed limit sign and say, ‘How fast can I go before I get a ticket?'” Hendrian said. “It says ‘limit’ for a reason. It’s not a guideline. One over is a fine.”

In 13 years as a police officer, Hendrian recalled about three crashes that were actual accidents — that is, incidents where someone had a medical emergency or some other uncontrollable loss of control of their vehicle.

“Everything else is somebody getting distracted or trying to beat somebody else through something,” Hendrian said. “It’s almost a conscious decision — ‘I’m going to crash because I’m going to hurry, I’m more important than this person, and I’m going to make this turn.'”

The Idaho State Police have also seen their fair share of crashes this summer. In the 18,588 square miles covered by ISP District 6, many of the roads troopers patrol have higher speed limits with a greater chance of injury or death.

“The main reason that we are seeing our crashes right now (are) distracted driving, aggressive driving and inattentive driving,” ISP spokesman Lt. Chris Weadick said. “Those are the main focus that we have during the 100 deadliest days of the summer to try to go out and be proactive, intercept those type of driving behaviors before we have those type of crashes. … These crashes are preventable.”

Both ISP and Idaho Falls Police use traffic stops to educate drivers on safe driving techniques and stop unsafe practices before a crash occurs.

“Sometimes we have to do financial behavior modification (a ticket),” Hendrian said. “If they don’t ever run a stop sign again, and they don’t get in a crash, to us, that’s a win.”

On July 1, Idaho’s hands-free law came into effect after the Idaho Legislature voted to ban holding an electronic device while behind the wheel. Drivers can only activate GPS, voice-to-text and make or receive calls with a voice command in hands-free mode. Weadick said if people actually follow this law, fewer crashes would happen.

“Stop driving distracted,” Weadick said. “Pay attention to your driving, focus on your driving, stay engaged with the activity of driving and not the activity of using your electronic device.”

Weadick said drivers can also report unsafe driving practices of others by calling their dispatch line at (208)-528-3408 or by dialing *477. Everything from aggressive driving to suspected DUIs is reportable.

“We make those phone calls a priority with ISP,” Weadick said. “If you feel it’s important to you, it’s important to ISP.”

He said these calls have helped troopers make more arrests of drivers under the influence, those with warrants, suspended drivers, and find general traffic violations — and they are more effective than if a trooper sits on the side of the road waiting for speeding drivers. He said those calls help troopers keep the streets safe and get criminals off Idaho’s highways.

In addition to stoping dangerous driving habits, Weadick and Hendrian both said the use of seat belts does save lives and prevent severe injury.

“Southeast Idaho historically has had some of the lowest seatbelt use,” Weadick said. “We’re still seeing in 2020 a number of crashes out here where people are not wearing their seat belts, and it comes at the expense of some catastrophic injuries.”

Hendrian said reckless driving can be as dangerous as playing with a loaded gun. Cars weighing thousands of pounds can cause lots of damage if not used correctly, he said, so driving a car is a big responsibility, and everyone needs to remember that.

“Everyone has been distracted while they’re driving, everyone has sped while they are driving,” Clements said. “The problem is, you can’t say, ‘I’ve gone 5 over my entire life, and I’ve never had a problem,’ because today is maybe the day you do.”

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