2016 may yield less fatalities than last year

In this June 2016 file photo, a crash on Interstate 15 near mile marker 182 resulted in the death of a 26-year-old woman, Filmore, Utah, June 30, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — While traffic-related deaths in Utah have been increasing over the past several years, with only six days left in 2016, the state may be able to break the deadly trend. As of Dec. 25, the number of deaths on Utah roadways is 274 – four less than in 2015.

In August, the National Safety Council issued a report for traffic-related fatalities in 2015 that showed the largest year-over-year increase in 50 years. The number of fatalities nationwide had jumped more than 7 percent in 2015 compared to 2014.

File photo: Charcoal gray Chrysler Charger sustains front and rear damage after three-car crash on Red Cliff Drive Saturday afternoon, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
File photo: Charcoal gray Chrysler Charger sustains front and rear damage after three-car crash on Red Cliff Drive Saturday afternoon, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016| Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

In Utah the increase was even more significant, with a 9 percent jump in the number of deaths from 2014 to 2015. This equated to 278 lives lost.

Speed continues to be the leading cause of traffic-related fatalities in the state, according to the the Utah Department of Public Safety 2015 crash report. Speed-related crashes are 2.7 times more likely to be fatal crashes.

“Speed is a major factor in crashes that result in death,” Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Lawrence Hopper said, “because speed increases the severity, which makes the crash more violent.”

Speed increases not only the severity of a crash, Hopper said, but also the number of crashes, because speed reduces the driver’s reaction time, which is critical when reacting to changing road conditions or other drivers and their actions.

Once the crash has happened, seat belt use is the most significant factor that can mean the difference between life and death. The 2015 crash report states that 98 percent of those who survived a crash were restrained, compared to less than 50 percent of the people who were not.

We spent more time this year educating drivers on seat belt use … as opposed to citing them,” Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Lawrence Hopper said.

That was the plan.

Considerable efforts have gone into enhancing safety through education and enforcement regarding the use of seat belts since the ‘Occupant Protection Program’ was implemented in 2015. The program included three separate five-day ‘Click it or Ticket’ seat belt mobilizations that were carried out involving hundreds of agencies.

File photo: Ford F-150 sustained frontal damage after a collision caused when a driver failed to yield on West Sunset Boulevard Saturday, St. George, Utah, Nov. 26, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News
File photo: Ford F-150 sustained frontal damage after a collision caused when a driver failed to yield on West Sunset Boulevard Saturday, St. George, Utah, Nov. 26, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Officers throughout the state worked more than 8,000 hours of overtime during these campaigns to educate and enforce drivers on Utah’s seat belt law amendments that went into effect in May 2015.

Previous to the amendments, a seat belt infraction was a secondary offense, meaning that a driver could not be pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. However, the amendments made the infraction a primary offense sufficient to be pulled over.

While not wearing a seat belt may lead to a traffic stop, the new law requires officers to first issue a warning for anyone over the age of 16 not wearing a seat belt. After the initial contact, $45 citations could then be issued. However, the fine can be waived by taking a 30-minute course approved by the Utah Department of Safety.

The amendments, which are part of a three-year pilot program, have raised some criticism from opponents who say labeling seat belt infractions as a primary offense is an infringement of personal freedom.

Read more: Utah gets tougher seat belt law with governor’s signature

However, despite the controversy, the new law and efforts to educate the public on it may be paying off, Hopper said.

In Utah, seat belt use is on the rise, he said, with 87 percent of vehicle occupants using their seat belts, as compared to 83 percent in January 2015. This means means 110,000 more Utahns wore their seat belts this year, and an estimated 5,000 of them were involved in a crash.

While 2016 may be the end of the growth trend in traffic-related deaths, there is still a long way to go before the state can reach its goal of “zero fatalities,” and as the year comes to a close, Hopper offered the following thoughts to Utah drivers:

We just want everyone to enjoy the holiday and to return home safely, so just slow it down and buckle up.

Resources

National Highway Transportation Board 2015 Report

Utah Crash Summary 2015

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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