June marked the deadliest month on Utah highways in almost nine years, and almost broke an all-time record for the month.
The Utah Highway Patrol reported Wednesday that 36 people died last month, the highest number for any month since August 2005.
That number could grow, slightly, as more reports are finalized and submitted from other agencies. Meanwhile, what appears to be the first traffic fatality of July occurred Wednesday when a motorcycle rider rear-ended another vehicle on Interstate 15 in Salt Lake City.
All this comes amid a fatal tide that began earlier this year and that troopers hope does not continue into the Fourth of July weekend — historically, the worst of the holidays for the state.
“We haven’t figured out [a reason for the spike],” said UHP Sgt. Todd Royce on Wednesday. “People just have to be careful when they’re driving. I don’t know what else to say.”
Last month’s fatalities come close to the highest ever for the month: 41 in June 1978.
A breakdown between passenger vehicles, motorcyclists and pedestrian deaths was not immediately available, but “a lot of these serious injury and fatal crashes can be contributed to driver error,” Royce added.
Troopers first noticed the deadly trend earlier this year, when by June 11, 52 people had died on Utah highways. For comparison, 35 people had died by the same time last year.
At that point, the UHP announced a summer-long blitz to curb the troubling total. The blitz includes putting more troopers on the highways to watch for aggressive or distracted drivers, as well as an added emphasis on patrolling on weekends and in recreational areas like canyons.
It also included a focus on unrestrained drivers and passengers, since half of the 52 people who had died by June 11 had not been wearing seat belts, said Col. Daniel Fuhr at the time.
The blitz came on top of a campaign from the state encouraging motorcyclists to ride safely. In the past three years, motorcycle deaths rose 10 percent, while other traffic fatalities fell 10 percent.
The UHP is adding even more troopers to the roads in “every area in the state, every county in the state” for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, Royce said. Since at least 1996, the uniquely American holiday weekend has claimed more lives than any other that the UHP tracks. Since at least 1996, there has never been a 4th of July weekend that was not marred by a traffic fatality, except for 2012, the UHP said.
Troopers will be looking for impaired, drowsy, speeding or distracted drivers, and they will be ready to issue plenty of seat belt citations.
The UHP is also urging people to share the road and for motorcyclists to wear all of their safety gear. The UHP has published these tips for safe driving, and more, on the Utah Department of Public Safety website.