Dramatic drop in fatalities during first 70 of ‘100 deadliest days’ on Utah’s roads

Utah Highway Patrol responds to a vehicle fire that triggered a secondary crash on Interstate 15 near mile marker 20, Washington County, Utah, April 27, 2019 | File photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Zero Fatalities Utah recently announced a 42% drop in the number of traffic fatalities since the start of the 100 deadliest days of summer through Aug. 1 compared to last year, but the focus on safety remains high with 30 days left to go, especially given recent fatalities in Southern Utah.

‘100 Safest Days’ infographic illustrating that traffic fatalities are down during ‘100 Deadliest Days of Summer’ in Utah in 2019 | Image courtesy of Zero Fatalities Utah, St. George News

Memorial Day marks the beginning of the ‘100 Deadliest Days’ for Utah travelers. Historically, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, fatal crashes nearly double – averaging about one death per day – compared to the rest of the year.

According to the announcement released Friday, those numbers are down but the challenge will be to maintain that drop in numbers with an appeal to all motorists to ask themselves what they can do to keep the roads across the Beehive State safe over the next month.

Sgt. Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol told St. George News that between May 24 and July 29 there have been 35 fatal crashes that resulted in 38 deaths statewide, compared to 58 fatal crashes that killed 65 people last year during the same period.

“That is a significant drop,” he said.

Street also said a number of factors can be attributed to the decrease in the number of traffic fatalities over the summer, adding that more time is needed to make an accurate assessment.

Even with the significant drop in overall numbers, Friday was particularly deadly with two fatal crashes reported just hours apart. The first involved a single-vehicle rollover on I-15 near mile marker 67 north of Cedar City near Enoch at 4:30 a.m. where the driver was completely ejected during the crash and died at the scene.

The second fatal crash was reported 10 hours later and involved two vehicles that collided at mile marker 58 after one vehicle, which was traveling south on I-15, veered into the northbound lane around 2:50 p.m. The driver of the second vehicle veered to the left to avoid colliding with the truck, crashed into the median and went into the air. The front bumper of the vehicle was caught on the cable barrier, which caused the car to flip and land in the northbound lanes on all four tires. When the second vehicle landed in the northbound lanes, a third vehicle, a passenger car, crashed into the side of it, fatally injuring a passenger in the front seat.

A number of factors are believed to be involved in bringing the overall number of fatal crashes down, Street said, and one contributing factor concerns the number of troopers patrolling Utah’s roadways, which has gone up with a series of hiring pushes to fill in the gap that took place when a number of troopers were diverted over to Operation Rio Grande, a massive multi-agency collaboration to increase public safety in the Rio Grande neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

“So during 2018 we were hiring troopers to fill in the gap, so this year we are fully staffed again which means there are more troopers out there for enforcement,” Street said.

Additionally, there were fewer crashes where impairment was a factor as well, but the overall numbers are likely due to a combination of things, he said, including enhanced vehicle safety, road safety, increased enforcement, ride share availability and that motorists are possibly thinking twice before getting behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking alcohol.

Regardless, the numbers are down he said, adding, “We may be onto something here.”

Street continued by saying the 100 Deadliest Days aren’t over yet – there is still another 30 days to go.

“So as we finish out the 100 deadliest days of 2019, we want to remind everyone to buckle up, avoid distractions and to drive sober. We want everyone to get home safely,” he said.

Deadliest Days of Summer fast facts

  • The odds of dying from a bear attack are 1 in 2.1 million. Your chance of surviving in an unbuckled car crash is 1 in 2.
  • Human error is the reason for 94% of all fatal car crashes.
  • Drivers under the age of 25 are involved in 42 percent of all drowsy driving crashes.

Deadliest Days were even deadlier in 2018

In 2018 the numbers climbed after 102 people lost their lives on the state’s roadways – a 13% increase over the previous year where, on average, Utah Highway Patrol troopers made one death notification per day over the course of the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer.

Compared to 2017, when the 100 Deadliest Days of Summer saw a 39% reduction in the number of people killed in traffic accidents and a 32% reduction in the number of fatal crashes when compared to the previous three-year average.

Why summer days are so deadly

Since numerous studies have shown that 94% of all crashes are caused by human error, and statistics reveal that more than 80% of all crashes take place under clear skies and on dry roads, Zero Fatalities attributes the sharp increase in the number of crashes during that period to complacency.

Graph showing that more than half of all crashes take place during daylight. | Image courtesy of Zero Fatalities Utah, St. George News

“We can only assume drivers become complacent when traveling under ideal conditions,” which means drivers are more likely to make mistakes or take risks they would otherwise refrain from when weather/road conditions are poor.

There are also more drivers on the road, as well as more trailers, RVs and large equipment that are bulkier and come with bigger blind spots and require greater stopping distances.

Additionally, motorists are more likely to drive faster than the posted speed limit in summer, Zero Fatalities says.

The goal is to maintain the drop in numbers which Zero Fatalities addressed with a challenge for all motorists to ask themselves what they can do to keep the roads across the Beehive State safe over the next month.

The challenge to drive safely is timely, with Labor Day weekend, which marks the end of the Deadliest Days of Summer, looming ahead, as it is also considered one of the most dangerous weekends to be on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Making the final 30 of the 100 Deadliest Days less deadly

  • Buckle Up – a seat belt is the single most effective traffic safety device, reducing the risk of serious injury and death. Make sure everyone is buckled.
  • Drive Sober – alcohol and drugs significantly alter a driver’s ability to react and process. Never risk impaired driving.
  • Obey the Speed Limit – When drivers risk exceeding the posted speed limit, the risk for a serious injury or fatality in a crash increases.
  • Drive Alert – never drive distracted or drowsy – distracted driving is anything that takes your attention away from driving safely, and if you find yourself tired behind the wheel, pull over to a safe place and rest or switch drivers.

The Utah Highway Patrol will continue it’s efforts through education and enforcement, Street said. The zero fatalities goal is achievable as motorists work with law enforcement to do their part in staying safe.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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