Conservative politicians, such as those who hold nearly all the power in the state of Utah, are often heard to stress the importance of personal responsibility over government mandate or assistance. And a recent state report explains how, even in an area where the government is pretty active, the role of personal responsibility is clearly crucial.
Government at all levels can — and should — mandate safer cars, build safer roads with responsible speed limits and set up checkpoints for drunken drivers and red-light scofflaws. But the burden of reducing deaths and serious injuries on our streets and highways rests most heavily on drivers and their day-by-day decisions.
The drivers who have any business behind the wheel of a motor vehicle wear their seat belts. And they insist that all of their passengers do so as well.
They keep their passions in check. They refrain from either talking or texting on their cellphones while on the road. And, of course, they do not drink and drive.
The Utah Department of Transportation the other day released its annual report on traffic fatalities. In 2013, 219 of us died in motor vehicle accidents. That’s more than the 217 who lost their lives the year before, but still a low number compared to past years, as the 2012 toll was the lowest since 1959.
Of those 219 fatalities, 71 of them, roughly a third, were directly linked to failure to wear a seat belt. That’s way more than the 28 deaths blamed on impairment (drunk or otherwise affected), the 50 deaths linked to driving aggressively (road rage) or the 11 fatalities attributed to distracted (cellphone) driving.
The driver safety laws in Utah are sadly lax. A driver cannot be stopped just for failure to wear a seat belt, though he can be ticketed if stopped for some other reason. Texting while driving is illegal, but talking on a phone while driving, despite damning research carried out right here at the University of Utah proving that it can be as bad a drunken driving, is not.
Those weak laws are out of step with most other states and amount to a dereliction of duty by state leaders.
People who are killed or seriously injured in car wrecks place a burden, financial and emotional, on the rest of the state. Pretending otherwise is not responsible governing.
But, laws or no laws, the most important responsibility belongs to the individual.
So buckle those gol’ durned seat belts. The life you save, as they say, may be your own.