Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include quotes reflecting updated information. The original story stated the Utah Department of Transportation took down signs after deeming it a distraction. Organizers say they planned to take the banners down anyway.
SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah – It’s a different kind of potential traffic hazard… and it wasn’t even on the road. Officials from UDOT say they took down some controversial anti-vaccination signs over a busy freeway after drivers flooded their phone lines with complaints.
Department of Transportation officials say it’s very common to see homemade signs posted from freeway bridges and overpasses. They normally say things like “Vote For [Candidate X],” or, “Welcome Home [fill in the blank].”
However, things were different Thursday morning. Drivers along I-215 saw signs saying “Vaccines can cause injury and death,” “COVID-19 vaccines are not safety tested against inert placebo,” and “Vaccine makers are exempt from liability.”
Department spokesman John Gleason said they decided to take the signs down, but they didn’t make that decision for political reasons.
“At UDOT, we don’t take a stance on the message itself,” Gleason said.
In this case, Gleason said their office got a steady stream of complaints from drivers wondering who posted the signs and why they hadn’t been removed.
“The signs did catch people’s attention. We received a number of phone calls from people that had all sorts of opinions on it,” Gleason said.
So many people called, officials determined the signs posed a possible distraction to drivers, a potential traffic hazard. When that happens, Gleason said, their hands are tied.
“We have to take action when people are calling in and saying that they were distracted by signs,” he said.
Gleason said maintenance crews went to remove them, and they coincidentally ran into the people putting the signs on the overpasses. According to Gleason, neither side reportedly wanted to see any kind of confrontation, so they came to an agreement.
“They said that they would remove them themselves, and so they did that,” Gleason said.
However, the group who posted the signs said UDOT was “irrelevant” in the decision to take the signs down. Michelle Stone — a member of Your Health Freedom, one of the two groups to hang the signs — said they planned to take the banners down by 10 a.m. anyway. Stone identified the other group involved as “V is for Vaccine.”
“A worker from UDOT showed up and a conversation was had and then a phone conversation was had as well,” Stone told KSL NewsRadio. “And they asked what we were doing. They did express a concern. They said they were concerned it was a distraction and we brought up billboards and political signs and things that are up all the time.”
After the conversation, Stone said the group took down the signs — which was their initial plan.
Stone said she was aware of the pushback from the posted signs. However, she said she believes it was because of the message rather than the act of hanging it on the overpass.
“These two organizations and this event were not anti-vaccination events, that’s not our focus,” Stone said. “It is pro-informed consent. Our concern is that parents in particular and individuals are not generally given the information they need to be able to have informed consent when deciding on a health care plan for their children and themselves.”
Technically, the law prohibits anyone placing signs on property owned by UDOT, but Gleason said the agency can’t keep sign removal at the top of its priorities.
So, they let them remain where they are unless they become a problem. He says removing roadside signs is especially pointless during election season since any removed campaign signs will just be replaced a few days later.
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