Utah has bad drivers, but just how bad are they?

Utah drivers are distracted and reckless, some say, while others think there are bad drivers everywhere.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The intersection at State Street and 4500 South in Murray, one that sees some of the most accidents each year in Utah, is pictured on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Driving in Utah is a stressful experience for EJ Beardall.

The Provo resident said people are often in a hurry, don’t look before backing out or go recklessly into intersections.

“As a native Utahn, I think our culture kind of raised us to be a little bit self-important and a little bit self-centered,” Beardall said. “(We think) things kind of revolve around us when they don’t.”

If her assessment is correct, Beardall’s thoughts are backed by science. A 2018 study published in Transportation Research found that the better-than-average effect — which is when a person believes in an illusion of their own superiority — was associated with risky driving behavior.

She also isn’t alone in feeling like Utah drivers are particularly bad.

She recently commented on a Twitter thread in which users discussed their various concerns about Utah drivers.

User @hannah_801 wrote that “every day” she’s almost hit by a car, and asked “when is this state and city going to stop treating pedestrian safety as an afterthought?!”

User @olliietollie Tweeted that while waiting to cross a street at a crosswalk, a truck nearly hit her, her baby and two other small children.

And user @tliebs17 wrote that the amount of drivers on cellphones in Utah is “shocking.” (Utah Gov. Spencer Cox recently signed into law Senate Bill 102, which seeks to address a piece of this problem by prohibiting people from taking or viewing pictures while driving.)

The thread has over 40 comments, many of them expressing similar sentiments.

Not everyone is of the opinion, however, that Utah’s driving problems are bigger than in other states.

Salt Lake City resident Christian Dahl feels there are bad drivers everywhere; perhaps it’s a little more noticeable in Utah, he said, because the state is home to people from all over the country, especially around places like Brigham Young University.

Dahl said the worst driving habit he’s noticed while living in Utah is that people often use their phones while stopped at intersections.

He also feels that people come onto the freeway “way too fast” and don’t merge properly.

“I think… a big part of it is just everyone from everywhere has different driving habits, and so it doesn’t mesh well on the road,” Dahl said.

Sgt. Chris Bishop with the Utah Highway Patrol agreed that in a state with people from all over, there’s bound to be some clashing driving styles.

“No matter where you go, they’re the worst drivers in the country,” he said.

Bishop said the Utah Highway Patrol is concerned that during storms, people don’t slow down — last year, they stopped almost 4,800 people for driving over 100 miles an hour.

Crashes have decreased in Utah, he added, but fatal crashes have increased.

“Whether we can say it’s because Utah drivers are bad, I don’t know that,” Bishop said. “But I think we need to be responsible when we’re behind the wheel. … Putting down those distractions, keeping our attention on driving the speed limit, is the next key.”

Driving data

So how bad are Utah drivers, really? The evidence is somewhat contradictory.

In 2021, Utah took no. 6 on a list of worst drivers created by insurance comparison website QuoteWizard.

The site analyzed over 2 million insurance quotes to determine which states have the best and worst drivers. Factors included accidents, speeding tickets, DUIs and citations.

Utah was outranked only by Alaska (no. 5), California (no. 4), Virginia (no. 3), North Dakota (no. 2) and Iowa (no. 1).

Additionally, insurance comparison website Insurify ranked Utah at no. 10 on its 2021 list of states with the worst drivers. The state’s share of drivers reporting a prior incident was 24.75% last year, while traffic fatalities per 100,000 population was 7.7.

Utah drivers were also cited for illegal behavior on the road at a rate that was 14% higher than the national average.

“While the rate of traffic fatalities is lower than average by 30%, it’s clear that Utahns could certainly exercise a bit more caution when behind the wheel,” the Insurify ranking states.

But not all data casts Utah in a bad light.

A 2020 ranking compiled by demographic data website World Population Review actually gives Utah an index number of 26.52 — the best in the nation — on its Bad Driving Index, which considers each state’s percentage of insured drivers, its number of DUI arrests and its amounts of car fatalities.

The average index number is 61.58. Mississippi places most poorly in this system, with an index number of 100 based on a high percentage of uninsured drivers and high fatality rate. (Conversely, Insurify ranked it at no. 2 on its list of states with the most polite drivers.)

Poor mental health = poor driving?

Another possibility is that Utah’s high rate of mental illness feeds into bad driving habits.

The Salt Lake Tribune previously reported that in a 2018 national analysis of mental health measures, Utah ranked at no. 51, determined by the state’s high rates of adult mental illness and low access to care.

Nancy Turley is a counselor originally from Arizona but now practicing in Utah. She said many of her clients have told her that they have difficulty managing their emotions on the road.

Mental health issues like anxiety and depression can play into the issue, she said.

“If you’re anxious at home or anxious at your work, you’re probably going to be anxious on the road,” Turley said.

Turley said since moving to Utah, she’s noticed more distracted drivers than where she lived in Arizona.

People often pull out in front of each other, change lanes too quickly or don’t get fully into a center lane to make left turns, she said.

She also started keeping track of how many people ran red lights at a particular intersection.

“I stopped counting at 25,” she said.

Turley said the issue boils down to consciousness; people need to be more aware of what’s going on in their heads while they’re driving.

“I think when you pack yourself in a car… you should be thinking ‘What am I packing in my mind? What’s my mental state?’” she said. “‘Can I put it in the garage before I drive out of the driveway?’”

They also need to put away distractions, Turley said, including putting cell phones away and turning down loud music.

“If you’re texting, if you’re talking on the phone, you are limiting your driving scope,” she said.

If someone does find themselves getting angry or experiencing other strong emotions while driving, Turley said the first step is recognizing it.

Then take deep breaths, Turley said, and notice what you’re saying to yourself. Are you catastrophizing? Generalizing? Saying the things your parents used to say in the car?

From there, try to change your thought patterns, Turley said.

“Change [them] to something that isn’t condemning, isn’t judgmental,” she said.