During the “100 deadliest days” of summer on Utah’s highways this year, 102 people died — up from 90 a year earlier. Mariana Sablan, 18, of Tooele was almost No. 103.
She was driving with her boyfriend on July 21 on State Route 73 in the desert between Tooele and Utah counties. She became distracted while talking, veered and found the car rolling — at least three times. She cried out “I’m sorry” repeatedly as the car’s front and rear took turns smashing, and then finally stopped.
“My passenger said, ‘You know what just happened, right? We’re alive, and it’s because of seat belts. Seat belts just saved our lives,’” she said. Her reaction “was a mixture of ‘I’m so glad to be alive,’ and ‘my dad is going to be so mad at me.’”
She pointed Wednesday at a large calendar from the Zero Fatalities Campaign showing how many people died each day this summer. July 21 has a zero — between two people who died on July 20 and four on July 22. “I think about it and I realize just how lucky I am.”
The Utah Highway Patrol and the Utah Department of Transportation featured Sablan at a news conference Wednesday — in a junked-car yard — to push the idea that it doesn’t take luck to survive on highways. More common sense could prevent most deaths, but they worry that too many Utahns just aren’t taking that message to heart.
“Ninety-four percent of all crashes are the result of human error,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. “We really need people to make the right decisions behind the wheel.”
For example, Michael Rapich, superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, said, “On the Labor Day weekend, we had five fatalities in three different crashes, all three of those involving alcohol.”
UTAH’S ’100 DEADLIEST DAYS' OF SUMMER ON THE ROAD, 2018
Fatalities: 102, up from 90 in 2017.
Involving motorcyclists: 26, up from 23.
Aggressive-driver instances: 26, up from 15.
Driver improperly restrained: 16, down from 25.
Impaired-driver instances: 14, no comparison.
Involving pedestrians: 12, up from 11.
Distracted-driver instances: 8, same as last year.
Drowsy-driver instances: 4, up from 3.
Instances involving bicyclists: 2, same as last year.
Note: Crashes may involve more than one contributing factor, so totals do not match the total number of fatalities.
Source: Utah Zero Fatalities campaign
To get to zero fatalities, Rapich said, "means zero texting” while driving, “zero speeding,” “eliminate all the distractions in the vehicle as much as you can,” and “zero driving while impaired. It means if you are going to drink, don’t drive.”
He adds: “If you can’t do anything else, put on the seat belt. We still have close to 15 percent of the Utah population who choose not to put a seat belt on. Unfortunately, they represent almost half” of crash fatalities.
Sablan said the habit of always wearing a seat belt saved her.
“I’ve always been a little weird about seat belts," she said. "As a little kid, I would sit down buckle up and then I would call out the names of each member of my family until they proved they had their seat belts on.”
The 100 days between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays typically average twice as many fatal crashes as other 100-day periods. Utah officials wage safety campaigns in those summer months, and the Highway Patrol deploys extra shifts and troopers to cut down on speeding and aggressive driving.
One of the troubling trends this year was an increase in motorcycle deaths.
“This is the deadliest year so far for motorcycles” in three decades, Gleason said. During the 100 days, 26 motorcyclists died, compared with 23 in 2017.
“It’s a shared responsibility," he said. “Motorcyclists need to make sure they are obeying all the traffic laws. They need to make sure they are wearing helmets and proper safety gear. We as drivers need to make sure we are watching out for motorcyclists.”
Rapich added: “Make sure you’re looking for motorcyclists. If you are distracted, the likelihood of seeing someone as a very small object, maybe in a blind spot, is greatly reduced. ... Be more attentive, put away the distractions.”
“It was a pretty rough year” during the 100 deadliest days of summer, the Highway Patrol chief added. “It would be really great if we could change that name and just call it the 100 days of summer.”