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Salt Lake City, Utah

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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
Attorney • 435-649-2525

Utah Transit Authority as Big Brother?

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The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) wants to outlaw pedestrians who are distracted around their TRAX and FrontRunner trains in an effort to protect such people from themselves. The move is in response to a rash of train related accidents over the past year that have been widely publicized. From January 2011 through today, there have been 10 train -pedestrian accidents, including 6 fatalities, although three of those were ruled suicides.

The idea? The UTA board is drafting an ordinance to ban such distractions as texting, talking on cell phones, listening to music with headphones and using electronics such as readers. Under state law, UTA, like towns and cities, has the power to enact ordinances that UTA police can enforce by issuing tickets punishable by civil fines. As currently drafted, first violations would result in a fine of $50 and subsequent offenses would cost $100 each.

In addition to the distractions issues, UTA has turned its attention to pedestrians and drivers who try to beat trains by rushing through gates or who move through crossings with flashing warning lights or downed gates. It appears that UTA views these transgressions as more egregious because it has proposed $300 fines for first offenses and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Do these proposed ordinances demonstrate that UTA believes it knows best for you and me? Perhaps, but the increased number of injuries and deaths suggests proper motives and that assessment is bolstered by the implementation of a high-profile advertising campaign aimed at raising safety awareness around UTA's tracks. UTA offers the following safety tips on its website:

Pedestrians and Bicyclists

– Before you cross railroad tracks or enter a TRAX or FrontRunner platform:

* always watch for trains—look both ways

* take off your head phones

* put your cell phone down—no texting or phone calls

* hop off your bike or skate board

* hold smaller children’s hands

* walk across the tracks or onto the platform when it is safe

* never cross between train cars—always walk around to a designated safe crossing

– Always stand away from the yellow tactile strip when trains approach the platform.

– Never walk or play on tracks or the rail corridor; even for short cuts. It could be deadly and is trespassing, punishable by a $100 or greater fine.

– Never go around a lowered gate or try to outrun a train. Just wait for the train to pass, the gates to lift and lights to stop before crossing the track.

– Never throw things at the train or place things on the track; you could get hurt or even derail the train.

Motorists

– When you approach a rail crossing, be sure to stop and clear the intersection if lights start flashing.

– Never go around lowered gates or try to cross a raised median. The gate and media are there to prevent you from going across the tracks when a train is coming.

– If you are driving in a lane shared with TRAX (like shared left-hand turn lanes in Salt Lake City) do not enter the lane if the train warning light is on.

You can also find a UTA safety and security fact sheet here.