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This Easter weekend was the deadliest on Utah roads in recent memory, even with only about 65% of the normal amount of traffic because of the coronavirus.
Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Nick Street said six people were killed in wrecks over the holiday weekend, the highest death toll since five were killed in 2013.
Street said it’s hard to know for sure why this year’s number of fatalities was so high despite less traffic — but he does have a theory.
Normally, he said, when the weather is nice, some people travel to less crowded roads in more rural areas and drive faster than they should; sometimes they are drinking alcohol or not wearing seatbelts. That’s why places like Cedar City and Kanab typically have a higher number of fatal crashes per capita than more populated areas, like in Salt Lake County, where roads are normally clogged with motorists.
“That mindset ends up costing people their lives," Street said.
And now that roads are less crowded across the state, he said, people might be taking the liberties they normally only would in areas with less dense populations. Consequently, Street said, troopers recently have been receiving more complaints of reckless drivers.
While data shows that troopers are giving out fewer speeding tickets this March compared to last — 6,322 last month, compared to 6,890 in March 2019 — people who are speeding are driving much faster than normal.
Street said it was once rare in Salt Lake County to cite someone for going over 100 mph, yet one trooper ticketed five people in a recent weekend for driving that fast. “That’s unheard of,” Street said.
One 25-year-old was driving well over 100 mph on April 11 as he swerved through traffic on State Route 201 near 800 West. He clipped a semi-truck and lost control of his car, according to a news release. He was ejected from the driver’s seat despite wearing a seatbelt and died at the crash site.
Two days later, a 20-year-old from Idaho crashed on Interstate 15 near 1200 North, another news release said. A witness told troopers the car crashed after drifting to the left and hitting the center barrier. Troopers said they believed speed, distraction and the driver not wearing a seatbelt all played a role in the man’s death.
“Utah Highway Patrol has investigated multiple high-speed crashes and fatalities during this pandemic,” the release said. “UHP would like to remind drivers to drive the speed limit and wear your seat belt.”
While Gov. Gary Herbert’s Stay Safe, Stay Home directive allows leisure driving, Street said motorists need to obey traffic laws.
He added, “If your leisure driving requires you to have a high rate of speed, you’re going about it wrong.”
Another side effect of the pandemic is troopers are seeing fewer people driving under the influence, Street said.
In March 2019, troopers stopped 279 drivers who were accused of DUI offenses. That dropped to 256 last month. It was also down considerably from February, when troopers arrested 348 on suspicion of DUI.