ST. GEORGE — Labor Day weekend marked the end of the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer,” and this year, there was a 40% spike in the number of traffic-related deaths along Utah’s roads.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street told St. George News that all told, 102 lives were lost during the 100 deadliest days of summer, compared to the 61 lives that were lost in traffic accidents last year. This year was one of only three years where fatal crash numbers reached triple digits within the last 10 years.
Street also said this year’s numbers are consistent with 2016-18 when numbers were higher. Last year, he said, there was a significant drop in the number of fatalities during the deadliest days, down from 103 in 2018 to 62, which was “unusual” he said.
There were atypical aspects to this year as well, he said.
For example, the ratio between men and women is always varied, with a higher percentage of men killed than women in any given year. This year, however, the disparity was even greater, he said.
“Many more men died in crashes this year than women — 75 men versus 25 woman — which is significant,” Street said.
Another variance found this year was the number of crashes that took place on rural roads and highways. On any given year, a majority of the fatal crashes reported across the state take place on interstates or major thoroughfares, and a higher number of crashes that result in death are also reported in the northern part of the state where populations are higher.
This year, however, a higher number of crashes that ended in death were reported along the Southern Utah corridor. Interestingly, a report released by CoPilot in June found that Washington County had the highest percentage of speed-related fatalities.
Moreover, the total number of crashes went down this year, by about 800, but the number of fatal crashes spiked significantly. July 1 was particularly deadly in Utah, as six people were killed in two crashes on a single day.
The first crash was reported in Washington County shortly after 1:30 p.m. when three people were killed in a three-vehicle crash on state Route 18 near the Ledges just west of the Winchester Hills Fire Station. A fourth individual was flown to the hospital in critical condition.
At the time of the crash, a Cadillac was heading north on SR-18 and veered to the left, crossing the median into oncoming traffic. It side-swiped a Ford and then continued north across the southbound lane where it struck a Nissan head-on, killing all three occupants in both vehicles.
Nine hours later, three Blanding men were killed in a single-vehicle rollover on state Route 276 near Lake Powell in San Juan County. The men were headed out on a fishing trip and were traveling through an open-range area where cattle are commonly seen near the roadway.
“Everyone in that SUV was killed — just like that,” Street told St. George News in July.
During the deadliest days, individuals killed were comprised of:
- 62 motorists
- 15 pedestrians
- 20 motorcyclists
- 5 cyclists
Moreover, more than 30 fatal crashes involved speed, and this year, 23 of the deaths were unrestrained, seven were distracted and one was drowsy.
A video that includes clips courtesy of UDOT’s Zero Fatalities Utah can be viewed at the top of this report.
Overall numbers for the year also jumped by more than 20% — from 155 lives lost in 2019 to 187 this year, as of Sept. 14 — and considering the drop in overall traffic numbers that followed in the wake of the pandemic, he said, those numbers are even more significant.
Along with the Utah Highway Patrol, the Utah Department of Transportation is also committed in their efforts to improve traffic safety, a mission they will continue until the number of lives lost in crashes is zero.
UDOT plays a key role in improving highway safety, and the agency’s function is not only maintaining the state’s highway infrastructure but to engineering and designing safer roadways, which in turn can reduce the number of deaths from traffic-related events.
UDOT spokesperson Zach Whitney told St. George News that instead of looking at individual numbers, the agency looks at trends that take place over years, which in turn influences engineering and construction efforts geared toward making roads safer.
As such, he said that 2020 is still within the rolling average of 101 deaths during the deadliest days. Even so, “one death is too many. … And we won’t celebrate until we have zero deaths on the state’s roadways.”
For over a decade, UDOT’s education program, Zero Fatalities Utah, has made efforts to educate drivers across the beehive state about the dangers of not buckling up or driving aggressively, distracted or impaired. And research has shown that 94% of all crashes are caused by human error, and the top contributing factors involve distraction, speeding, aggressive driving, drowsiness, impairment and not buckling up.
According to Whitney, with all of the uncertainty and changes taking place across the country right now, much of which is really beyond anyone’s control, “there are things we can control — we can focus on our driving, and making it safer for everyone out there,” he said.
Editors note: There was a 67% increase in the number of people killed during the 100 Deadliest Days this year, compared to the 61 deaths reported during the same period last year.
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