In May, a truck driver was browsing online classifieds for a new car for his wife when he smashed his semitruck into the back of a sedan.
The crash paralyzed one of the sedan’s occupants and killed the other. The man who died, Landon Peatross, was one of 273 people who were killed on Utah roads in 2017.
And his death was one of at least 20 fatalaties caused by distracted driving, according to a preliminary report released on Wednesday by the Utah Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety.
The analysis reflects every death on public Utah roads (excluding suicides) in 2017, and broke down how many were attributed to different factors, such as drowsy and distracted driving.
“We’re a distracted culture,” UDOT spokesman John Gleason said. “We really do need a culture change. We need it to be as frowned-upon as maybe smoking is now.”
Along with the release of the report, officials announced the launch of a “Join the Resistance” campaign they’ve been teasing for the past few months.
A teaser for the campaign started in early December, with billboards along Interstate 15 that seemed to promote “irresistible” products: lipstick, a hamburger, a razor, a new phone.
Two weeks later, a red stripe appeared across the billboards, and the word “resist” added.
The final phase was a completely red billboard with one line of white text in all capital letters: THE RESISTANCE IS COMING 1.17.18
The billboards will be updated once more. The newest version will provide a more complete picture of the campaign by urging motorists to “resist the urge” of distractions such as phones and food.
Along with the billboards, officials rolled out short social media videos.
One video shows former Jazz star Thurl Bailey, RSL midfielder Sebastian Saucedo, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham and other Utah icons warning against distracted driving.
The actual number of fatalities caused by distracted driving is likely higher than what is reported, because people don’t always admit that they were distracted, Gleason said.
And, it’s sometimes hard to tell what caused a crash — especially if only one car was involved, Gleason said.
Driving aggressively (85) and not wearing a seat belt (87) accounted for the highest numbers of crash fatalities.
“And not everyone would have survived if they were wearing their seat belts, but they would have had a much better chance,” Gleason said.
The number of crashes in which the person who was killed wasn’t wearing a seat belt rose from 80 in 2016.
The number of pedestrians killed also rose, from 33 people in 2016 to 43 in 2017.
Despite more recorded cars on the road, traffic deaths decreased slightly from the year before, for the first time in five years, Gleason said, adding, “Which is good but we’re nowhere near where we want to be.”
The decrease in fatalities — down eight from 281 in 2016 — isn’t significant enough to be attributed to any specific factor, he said.
The numbers in the report could change slightly. Someone might be added to the report if people die from injuries suffered in a crash. Or, someone might be taken off the report if their death is ruled a suicide.