A reminder for holiday drivers: Take it easy on US-6 between Spanish Fork and I-70
The holiday travel season is here. As many Utahns prepare to head out on the state’s highways, they may find themselves traveling the 128-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 6 from Spanish Fork through Price to I-70.
Travelers don’t consider US-6 to be a fun drive, and that’s because of the frequent crashes, especially on parts of the road in Spanish Fork Canyon and Soldier Summit. Since 2018, there have been 2,615 crashes and 48 fatalities along the highway as it cuts through Carbon, Emery, Utah and Wasatch counties. There have been 351 crashes and 13 fatalities so far in 2023.
Frequent US-6 travelers like Mike Martinez think it’s a driver responsibility problem.
He drives from Price to Syracuse once a week. He said the winding, narrow highway is “what we got … so we have to live with what we got.”
The speed limit is varied along the route, but typically 65 miles per hour. Even when Martinez tips his speed over the limit that isn’t enough for others, and people still whiz past him on sharp turns and declines. One time when he was on a motorcycle, a car passed a double yellow line and nearly hit him in what would have been a head-on collision.
“I pulled over and I was shaking so dang hard,” he said. “I thought I saw my life pass before my eyes in that moment.”
Martinez has made his own mistakes too. Many years ago, he said he made his own risky pass and probably scared the other driver.
“I looked up in my rearview mirror to see that he was OK,” he said. “And you know what I saw in my rearview mirror? Was my two toddler daughters sitting in the back seat of my car.”
“I said to myself, ‘Holy crap. Not only am I being a dumb ass and endangering my life and that driver's life, but I put my girls’ life at risk,” he said. “And that day is the day I told myself, ‘I'm going to start driving this road safer.’”
There are five contributing factors to the crashes that happen along Highway 6 — failure to stay in the correct lane, over-correcting, driving too fast for weather conditions, exceeding the posted speed limit and failing to yield — according to the Utah Highway Safety Office.
“Poor driving behavior is a choice,” said spokesperson Jason Mettmann. “These drivers are making the choice to go too fast for weather conditions or exceed the posted speed limit.”
The bottom line — it's a scary road. There are Facebook groups that people use to share road conditions, updates and concerns. Some commenters say the problem is a lack of infrastructure improvements from the Utah Department of Transportation.
Director of Traffic and Safety Robert Miles said UDOT periodically conducts safety studies along US-6 to put together plans of how they can spend money to effectively improve safety. Over the past 18 years, he said, UDOT has spent about $148 million on widening lanes, adding passing lanes, installing barriers, improving intersections, adding curve warning signs and improving stripe markings.
“Barrier installation does a lot and changes the severity of the crash,” he said. “Curve warning signs, things that communicate back with the driver and help them understand they need to slow down or change behavior — those are very effective.
Miles said the work they’ve done has “had an average reduction of about 60% in the crash rate along the corridor.” Even so, he still echoes both Mettmann and Martinez. As the holiday travel season ramps up, it’s up to drivers to travel safely by not speeding, driving defensively, buckling up, getting enough rest and not driving impaired.
“We need everybody to come together on this, and the impacts of bad decisions, it’s hard to overcome that with engineering and with enforcement,” he said. “So we all have the ability to choose how we behave and how safe we are, and I would ask us all to choose wisely.”