Utah may not be able to bring back the days when Eisenhower was president and Frankie Avalon ruled the airwaves, but it could be able to replicate that period’s highway safety record.
The steadily decreasing death toll on Utah’s roads has the state on track for its lowest number of traffic fatalities since the 1950s.
"If we can have zero fatalities between now and New Year’s Day, we will be below the fatal numbers as far back as 1959," said Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Dwayne Baird on Thursday.
Two weeks into December, 2012 has seen just 198 road deaths, well within range of staying below 1959’s total of 205.
Already, Utah seems a cinch for fatality numbers not seen since 1974, Utah Department of Public Safety statistics show. That year, 228 traffic-related deaths were reported.
"As people continue to buckle up, slow down, not be distracted behind the wheel, and refrain from driving under the influence, Utah is on track for one of the safest years in more than five decades," Utah Highway Patrol Superintendent Daniel Fuhr said Thursday.
Given the increases in population and traffic since that time, Baird said, the credit for safer travel goes to three main things: better highway engineering, public education about safety and more enforcement on the roads.
Baird said the decrease has been gradual over the years. The recent completion of the Interstate 15 project in Utah County is a good example of enhanced engineering on Utah’s roads, he said, and more people are aware of the need to wear seat belts, strap children into car seats and avoid drunken driving. Even the very presence of a police officer on the roadways has an impact.
"When you see a police officer on the side of the road, what do you do?" Baird asked. Most drivers will slow down and make sure they’re driving safely, he added.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 2011 saw a total of 248 fatalities on the roadway. 2012’s numbers also are well below the five-year average of 263, which was compiled between 2007 and 2011.
In recent years, the Utah Highway Patrol has increased overtime shifts to put more troopers on the roads during peak travel periods. That approach will be repeated during the upcoming Christmas and New Year’s periods in hopes of keeping traffic tragedies low.
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