UTA wants vehicles to yield to buses
Legislature • Agency helps draft bill for safety and logistics.
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Star Trek's stoic, rational Mr. Spock once said before sacrificing himself (temporarily) to save his ship, "Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

The Utah Transit Authority hopes Utahns will support such thinking as it is asking the Legislature to change traffic laws to require cars (usually with few riders) in traffic lanes to yield to transit buses (sometimes with many passengers) as they try to enter the flow — a reversal of current law.

"Our position is if you have a large group of people attempting to get to a destination and perhaps a single driver ... there is value in favoring the larger group," says UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. He adds it would help keep buses on schedule, thus making mass transit more attractive and able to reduce congestion and pollution.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, a former UTA board member, has introduced SB121 to make the change, which she says was requested directly by bus drivers.

"People just don't yield to buses," she said. "Drivers think, 'I don't want to get behind a bus.' "

She says it leads to many accidents and near-accidents.

"We have to change our culture. We have a lot of people to move" as the area grows and mass transit becomes more important, Mayne said.

Carpenter, who notes that UTA helped draft the bill, said bus-schedule reliability "is always subject to traffic. Whether it's highway construction or it's heavy traffic, it is always harder to keep a bus on schedule than a train that travels in a dedicated right of way." He says the bill could help — and three states already have similar laws.

The bill also specifically says the change does not relieve bus drivers "from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the roadway." So it should not lead to carelessness or aggression by bus drivers, Carpenter says, because they could lose their licenses and jobs if involved in avoidable accidents.

Still, not everyone is thrilled with the bill.

When the UTA mentioned it as a possibility last year, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who is leaving the Legislature, said all vehicles should follow the same rules to reduce confusion. He said the state would probably do better to fund an advertising campaign to push courtesy among drivers.

Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman for AAA Utah, says her insurance and travel company will study the bill, but generally it prefers "to limit the number of special cases related to right of way to keep things simpler for all road users. As a matter of courtesy, though, motorists should yield to vehicles looking to enter the traffic flow if it is safe and reasonable."

Rick Clasby, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, said at first glance the bill causes no great concerns — but his group will study it. He notes that current law requires traffic to stop for school buses with signals flashing, for example, to improve safety, and the bill could be seen as akin to that.

But he says one major concern if the bill passes is "How do we educate the other drivers?"

Mayne is writing a separate resolution that may help with that. She says it will call for questions about safety around mass transit in license exams for first-time drivers. "It would help educate from the bottom up," she says.

ldavidson@sltrib.com —

Giving UTA buses an advantage

Current Utah Code 41-6a-903 • Says any driver about to enter a highway "shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the continuing lane."

Proposed SB121 •Would reverse that for buses, saying other drivers "shall yield the right of way to a public transit vehicle traveling in the same direction that has signaled and is reentering the traffic flow."