ST. GEORGE — When lockdown orders from the COVID-19 pandemic went into effect across the country, car traffic declined significantly. But despite this, speeding is still responsible for more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities in the U.S., and in Utah, those numbers are even higher.
In light of the increase in speed-related traffic fatalities, CoPilot, a company that develops analytical software for the auto industry, set out to examine which states and counties account for the highest number of speeding-related deaths. The findings were included on a report released last month.
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the study ranked states by comparing the number of total traffic fatalities that involve speeding. Utah was ranked No. 30, with 28% of all traffic deaths involving speeding, and in the state, Washington County has the highest percentage of speed-related fatalities. (See Ed. note)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determines that a crash is speed related if at least one of two factors were present at the time of the crash: if one of the drivers is actually cited for a speeding-related offense or when an officer determines that driving too fast for conditions, racing or exceeding the speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash.
While the highway safety data shows that speed-related crashes have been on the decline for years, the rates vary from state to state, and research has found a “statistically significant relationship” between speed-related deaths and the maximum posted speed limit within each state.
The study concluded that “states with higher posted speed limits often experience more speed-related fatalities.”
While crashes may have been declining, the number of incidents of speeding in Utah has increased. Utah Highway Patrol troopers have encountered a recent uptick in the number of drivers exceeding 100 mph across the state, and those numbers have been rising for the last three years, Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street said Thursday.
For the first six months of 2018, there were 1,798 speeding tickets issued to drivers going more than 100 mph. This year, that number has jumped to more than 2,400 issued during that same period.
Washington County was fifth on the list of the counties in the state with the highest number of citations issued to drivers exceeding 100 mph, Street said.
The deadliness associated with speed was brought home in May, when the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer” commenced in the state.
Street previously told St. George News that this year, even before the deadliest days began, “it was already deadlier” than previous years. And traffic-related fatalities are still on the rise. As of July 1, there have been 119 people killed in crashes, compared to 104 deaths in 2019 during that same period, similar to the findings in the CoPilot report.
Wednesday turned out to be particularly deadly, with six people killed in two crashes that took place just hours apart.
The first was a three-vehicle crash reported in Washington County on state Route 18 near mile marker 9, where three people were killed. The second crash was reported in San Juan County involving a single-vehicle rollover on state Route 276. All three men in the SUV were killed on their way to Lake Powell on a fishing trip.
While speed was not listed as a factor in the Washington County crash, it likely played a role in the second crash when the driver swerved, possibly to avoid striking a cow in the roadway, and lost control of the vehicle as it rolled multiple times across the highway, according to authorities.
Relationship between speed and crash severity
Speed is one of the most widely studied variables when it comes to crashes because it is so closely linked to the severity of injuries and has remained the most common factor in fatal road accidents since the national maximum speed limit was implemented in 1974.
More than two decades later, the law was repealed, and states have steadily implemented higher speed limits. A handful of those states have raised the interstate speed limit to 80 mph — including Utah.
The severity of a crash is governed by the laws of physics, so at higher speeds, the kinetic energy released in a crash increases, while reaction time is shorter. In fact, Nilsson’s “Power Model” shows that even an increase in speed of only 1% results in a 2% increase in injury crash frequency, a 3% increase in the frequency of severe crashes and a 4% increase in the frequency of fatal crashes.
Moreover, the effectiveness of the vehicle’s safety features, such as air bags, safety belts and crumple zone decrease as the impact speed increases.
List of states and counties with the ‘worst speeding problems’
In addition to being fifth on the list of Utah counties with the highest number of speeding citations, Washington County also reported that nearly 39% of all fatal crashes involved speeding. This placed the county at No. 93 on the CoPilot list of 590 counties in the country having the worst speeding problems, and it places Washington County higher than the other four Utah counties that made the list.
According to the report, Salt Lake County came in with 28% of road deaths caused by speed, followed by 25% in Utah County, approximately 24% in Cache County and 22% in Weber County.
Across the state line, more than 40% of traffic-related fatalities were caused by speed in Mohave County, ranking it No. 49 on the list. Numerous counties across Arizona were also included in the list.
In Nevada, two counties made it on the list, including Clark County at No. 111, where more than 36% of all traffic deaths were caused by speeding, followed by 23% in Washoe County, ranking it at 397 on the list.
Alcohol and speed
Alcohol is another factor that plays a significant roll in speed-related deaths, the CoPilot analysis found. Over the past five years, nearly half of all speed-related deaths involved a driver that had consumed alcohol.
In an effort to keep impaired drivers off of the roadways, the Utah Highway Patrol announced Wednesday that troopers, officers and deputies throughout the state will be working over 240 extra DUI shifts through the 4th of July weekend.
Ed. note: An earlier version of this story listed Washington County as having the highest number of speed-related deaths, as opposed to percentage.
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