‘We’re in crisis now’: How Utah scores in new report on traffic deaths and safety laws – Archyde

Salt Lake police are investigating a fatal accident on March 31, 2021. A statewide road safety report indicates that 2021 will be the deadliest year on Utah’s roads in over a decade. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is not alone in the last two years with an increase in traffic accidents, injuries and deaths.

The number of deaths nationwide in 2020 was the highest in 14 years, but early estimates suggest 2021 was even worse, as was the case in Utah.

Fatalities are so common across the country that the National Road Safety Coalition has made “Out of Control” their 2022 theme for Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety Fahrplan der State Highway Safety Laws Report.

“We’re having a crisis right now with highway fatalities and accidents that need treatment,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said during a news conference hosted by the organization on Tuesday.

A public safety crisis

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported 38,680 road deaths in the United States in 2020, the highest number of fatalities in the country since 2007 and a 7% increase from 2019. This is despite a noticeable drop in kilometers driven as a result of COVID-19, which is affecting Business and leisure impacted travel.

According to Cathy Chase, the president of Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety, there were 20,000 fatalities on US roads in the first six months of 2021, an 18% increase from the first half of 2020. The federal Department of Transportation is expected to be in release its 2021 death toll this year.

Utah’s preliminary data for 2021 could provide some insight into what to expect when the final numbers are reported. State transportation officials reported that 320 people were killed on Utah’s roads last year, a 16% increase from 2020 and the highest in the state since 2002.

The Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety report, released on Tuesday, also notes that the first half of 2021 indicates a “trend with almost a 20% increase in road fatalities” from 2020. He adds that the surge in the first half of 2021 is the largest jump recorded in the history of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, introduced in 1975.

What’s really important is that we don’t lose sight of the fact that these facts and figures represent people.

–Cathy Chase, highway and auto safety attorney

The dangerous trends that emerged in Utah last year — speeding, impaired driving and fewer seat belts — also appear to be a growing problem nationwide. Alex Otte, President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, pointed out that alcohol and drug abuse, speeding and not using seatbelts are often major contributors to accidents and fatalities.

The increase in all three factors comes at a time when total kilometers traveled nationwide have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“This is a public safety crisis,” she said.

Other members of Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety note that the surge over the past two years is a rapid reversal in safer driving habits since the coalition’s formation in 1989.

For example, the increase in reported fatalities in 2020 is well below fatalities on national roads before the push for safer roads. On average in the 1980s, there were just over 46,000 traffic fatalities annually, according to the US Department of Transportation. Since 1975 there have even been three years in which the number has exceeded 50,000.

The upward movement started before the pandemic because 2019 ended with the highest number of deaths since 2007. It has worsened in 2020, despite fewer people on the streets, and appears to have gotten even worse over the past year.

“While many life-saving advances have been made that have prevented countless accidents, deaths and injuries, we are now faced with an alarming uptick in traffic deaths over the past two years,” said Alan Maness, vice president of federal affairs and adviser to insurance giant State Farm.

Maness added that if everyone wore seat belts at all times, there would be more than 2,000 people who die in fatal accidents annually.

Traffic officials in Utah earlier this month noted that the state’s seat belt usage rate fell to a five-year low over the past year, with an 88% usage rate. That means just over one in nine people on Utah’s roads last year did not wear a seat belt. There were also 74 deaths tied to unbelted people in vehicles.

Motor vehicle accidents also have an enormous economic cost. According to the report, crashes cost $292 billion annually nationwide — and $2.1 billion in Utah. This includes property damage costs, medical bills, lost workplace/household productivity and other costs related to accidents.

“What’s really important is that we don’t lose sight of the fact that these facts and figures represent people – they are family members, friends and loved ones who are tragically affected by avoidable loss and serious, debilitating injuries,” he said chase

Outlining the problem

Oro Valley (Arizona) Police Department Carmen Trevizo said nationwide speeding fatalities increased 11% in 2020, while drunk driving fatalities also increased 9%.

“These are shocking numbers,” she said. “The public is understandably alarmed by this and other fatal driving behaviors.”

The Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety conducted a survey on road safety issues last month. They found that most respondents had concerns about the main causes of fatal accidents.

At 84%, distraction while driving – making phone calls or texting – was the top concern among survey respondents. Being intoxicated or incapable of driving (80%), running red lights/stop signs (70%), speeding (68%) and not using seat belts or child seats (65%) rounded out the top 5.

Only about one in four respondents said they were aware of the sudden increase in fatal accidents by early 2021. However, over two-thirds still believe that not enough is being done to prevent fatal accidents.

Take seat belts as an example. Approximately 40% of respondents indicated that they do not always use a seat belt in the back seat of a vehicle because it is not required by law in their state; 60% said a law would persuade them to change their habits.

Incidentally, Utah is one of the states that requires seat belts to be worn in the back seat of a vehicle.

“We need states that act now,” said Otte.

What Utah does and doesn’t do well

The Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety report concludes with 16 road laws recommended by the Safer Roads Coalition. These include laws that curb distracted and impaired driving, as well as laws that improve youth driving safety, occupant safety and child safety.

The coalition then ranks states on a scale of “green,” “amber,” and “red” based on how many of those laws each state has implemented. New York and Rhode Island have the most laws at 13, while California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon and Washington all had at least 10 laws to earn a green rating.

Missouri and Wyoming had the fewest laws on the books at three. Arizona, Florida, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, and Virginia also received red ratings.

This map shows how the 50 US states are doing with the 16 laws recommended by Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety to reduce fatal accidents.  Green means a state has 10 or more of these laws, while red indicates six or fewer.  Utah has nine.
This map shows how the 50 US states are doing with the 16 laws recommended by Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety to reduce fatal accidents. Green means a state has 10 or more of these laws, while red indicates six or fewer. Utah has nine. (Photo: Advocates For Highway and Auto Safety)

Utah has nine of the 16 recommended laws, making it one of 31 states in the yellow category. The coalition says these states have many laws that improve road safety, but they claim more safety laws are needed.

The Beehive State is lauded for laws enforcing front and rear seat belts and booster seat laws. Our state also has a six-month retention period for new drivers.

It’s also one of only a handful of states in the nation with all five recommended impaired and distracted driving laws.

  • Ignition locks for all disabled people
  • Child Endangerment Laws for Disabled Drivers
  • Open container laws
  • SMS restrictions for all drivers
  • Graduated driving license restrictions for mobile phones

Utah was particularly riddled with laws revolving around younger drivers. The coalition proposes that Utah raise the minimum age for a learner license from 15 to 16 and make 18 the minimum age for a full license. It also recommends that stricter regulations on supervised driving and no-night driving laws should apply.

Last year in Utah there were 44 fatal accidents involving a teenage driver, along with 2016, the most in the past decade.

The report also calls on Utah to pass legislation mandating helmets for all motorcyclists and to pass a law requiring all children to be rear-facing in car seats until they are at least two years old.

“We can and must do more to address this constant and widespread threat, which is also contributing to the growing death toll,” Maness said while discussing the 16 outlined laws. “Every law that is enacted prevents future tragedies.”

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