In 1977, Sergeant Gary Ernst of the Michigan State Police and First Sergeant Gene Neff of the Indiana State Police got together to discuss the possibility of their two states working together during a holiday weekend in an effort to reduce traffic crashes and thereby save lives. They put together an operation plan, gained administrative approval, and launched a massive public information campaign.
Interstate 94, which stretches across Michigan and Indiana, was identified as the project route. The operation a plan was simple. Interstate 94 would be targeted with extra patrol coverage and highly visible, aggressive enforcement activity throughout the 4th of July holiday weekend. It was hoped that this enforcement activity, coupled with a widespread public information and education campaign, would lead to voluntary compliance with the traffic rules and regulations and ultimately result in fewer traffic accidents. The project was named “Operation C.A.R.E.”
The first Operation C.A.R.E. project was so successful that plans were made to expand the program. In March of 1978, the first Operation C.A.R.E. conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Thirty-six state police and highway patrol agencies were in attendance. By the end of the conference, plans had been made to solicit nationwide state police and highway patrol participation in the program during the 1978 summer travel season. During this first project, which targeted interstate 15, interstate 80, interstate 70, and interstate 84, there was a 100 percent reduction in traffic fatalities. Support for the C.A.R.E. concept was so strong that all 48 contiguous states became involved. It wasn’t long before all 50 states were involved.
The District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands also became involved in the program. In 1986, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, and the Quebec Police joined Operation C.A.R.E. In order to determine the program’s effectiveness certain statistics had to be collected and analyzed. During Utah’s first project back in 1978, which targeted interstate 15, interstate 80, interstate 70, and interstate 84, there was a 100 percent reduction in traffic fatalities. Results like this convinced the administration that participation was worth while and should be continued.
Over the years, enthusiasm for the program diminished and in many instances it turned into nothing more that an exercise in collecting crash and enforcement statistics. People failed to develop specific enforcement or public information and education programs aimed at reducing traffic crashes. Some within our ranks have asked, “Do you think there is still a need for Operation C.A.R.E.?”
Even though times have changed, Operation C.A.R.E. is needed more than ever. With the change in federal law, many states like Utah have chosen to substantially increase the speed limits on the highways. Growth has increased the number or registered vehicles, the number of licensed drivers, and the number of miles being driven annually. These factors and our past experience have taught us that traffic crashes will increase and more people will be injured and killed, unless effective traffic safety invention occurs. Operation C.A.R.E. has made a difference in the past and will continue to make a positive difference in the future, as long as we make a genuine commitment to it.
The Utah Highway Patrol has been involved in other traffic safety programs like SPAN 70 and Operation Western Nine. The troopers that have participated in these special projects have always said the programs were worthwhile, they enjoyed their involvement, and other projects should be conducted in the future. This administration is committed to making Operation C.A.R.E. holidays something each trooper can look forward to with enthusiasm. Instead of just gathering statistics, we want every section in the state to develop specific programs designed to prevent crashes and save lives.