With the pandemic, traffic was down a bit on Utah roads this summer as more people worked at home — but deaths jumped by 67% compared to last year.
“Speed had a lot to do with it,” said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street, noting summer highway deaths this year increased to 102 compared to 61 last year.
Anecdotally, he said some people apparently figured that highways were more open with less traffic during the pandemic, and sped at extreme rates. Officers ticketed many for going faster than 100 mph. While traffic was way down during early stay-at-home orders, it returned to near-normal later.
He noted that speeding was involved in 32 fatal crashes during the summer — during what officials call the 100 deadliest days of the year.
That was the most common contributing cause of those deadly accidents. Among other causes, 23 fatal crashes had people who did not wear seat belts; seven involved distracted drivers and one involved a drowsy driver.
Also, Street said the pandemic led more people to seek recreation in the outdoors, including using some tricky roads in rural or mountain areas.
“I think that added to maybe some less experienced drivers on some of Utah’s more difficult roadways, roadways that require you to pay attention all the time,” he said.
Street urges Utah motorists to focus on simple but key safety practices: paying attention to what’s around you; driving at or below the posted limit; and buckling up. “That would have reduced the number of lives lost, definitely.”
John Gleason, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Transportation, said the higher number of deaths this summer is actually close to the five-year average, while 2019 was a one-year drop from what is typical.
“2019 was a bright spot when we saw an incredible reduction in fatalities,” he said. “It shows what is possible, and that we can do better.” Gleason adds that he hopes Utah drivers will do better the rest of this year.
Deaths this summer included 62 motorists, 20 motorcyclists, 15 pedestrians and five bicyclists.
Officials released data on Wednesday about the 187 deaths on Utah roads through Sept. 14 (compared to 155 last year) including:
• The number of motorists killed has increased 20%, from 106 to 127.
• Pedestrian deaths were up 14%, from 21 to 24.
• Motorcyclist deaths jumped 25%, from 24 to 30.
• Bicyclist fatalities increased by 50%, from four to six.
Next week is child passenger safety week. Street notes that 60% of child safety seats are not installed correctly, so officials will offer car seat inspection stations to help ensure parents have the right seat for a child’s age and size.
A digital map with locations of the station is available at clickit.utah.gov.