ST. GEORGE — Labor Day weekend marked the end of the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer,” and the holiday weekend this year was particularly deadly – as the number of motorists on Utah’s roadways are down, the number of people killed in crashes continues to climb.
During the 100 Deadliest Days, which runs from Memorial day to Labor day, there is typically a spike in the number of traffic fatalities. In fact, fatal crash numbers nearly double compared to the rest of the year — averaging nearly one death per day during the summer months.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Cameron Roden told St. George News that during the deadliest days of summer this year, 101 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes.
“Those are not just numbers,” he said. “Every one of them represents an individual whose life was lost in a fatal crash.”
Roden added that the devastation left in the wake of a fatal crash extends beyond the one who was killed, and affects the family and anyone associated with the person who is now left with a huge loss.
The 102 days that made up the deadliest days of summer this year ended with three people killed in crashes over Labor Day weekend, including two in Washington County. Altogether in Southern Utah, 10 occupants lost their lives in crashes, which included four in Washington County, two in Iron County and four in Kane County.
For over a decade, the department’s education program, Zero Fatalities Utah, has made efforts to educate drivers across the Beehive state about the dangers of not buckling up, or driving aggressively, distracted or impaired. Even so, the number of people killed each year continues to climb – and this year may be even worse.
Roden said the reason is the number of crash-related fatalities was already higher than last year even before the state entered the 100 deadliest days – with a 10% increase over last year. The summer started with more than 200 crashes, compared to last year’s number, which was nearer 180, he said.
Also contributing were a few very deadly weekends, including a dust storm that contributed to a 22-car pileup on Interstate 15 in Kanosh at the end of July that left eight people dead – including four children.
Two weeks later, another deadly weekend occurred when six people were killed in five crashes from Aug. 6-8, a weekend that Utah Highway Patrol Colonel Michael Rapich said seemed like it just “wouldn’t stop,” during a press conference held in Salt Lake City on Aug. 13.
It was the spike in the number of fatal crashes that were reported all over the state, from Salt Lake to Washington County, as well as the trend authorities were seeing relating to certain factors that were contributing to the deadly crashes.
Rapich said the cause in a majority of the crashes was directly related to “very bad” driving behaviors that troopers were finding during several accident investigations.
Speeding, DUIs and motorists who pushed the limits of fatigue were among these bad behaviors mentioned during the interview with Roden.
“Every behavior behind the wheel starts with a decision,” Roden said. “So in all reality, driving impaired, not putting your seat belt on, and so on, nearly every fatal crash that took place over the summer was caused by human error – first with a bad decision that was followed by dangerous behavior.”
That also means that nearly every fatal crash is also preventable – which is the part that is difficult to understand – and even harder to soak in, he said, adding it is up to motorists to increase safety across Utah’s highways, as traffic enforcement and education can only go so far.
“Deadly crashes are only preventable if people change their driving behaviors.”
During this year alone, UHP has run 11 campaigns geared toward traffic safety, starting with efforts to increase awareness of Utah’s “move over” laws and remind drivers to slow down and move over for vehicles on the shoulder.
From there, 10 more campaigns ran throughout the year, efforts focused on reducing fatalities on the state’s roadways by implementing education and enforcement efforts geared toward increasing seat belt use and reminding motorists of the dangers of speeding or driving while impaired, drowsy or distracted. The agency also ran a campaign focused on lane filtering maneuvers to increase safety for those riding motorcycles.
Despite those efforts, the numbers continue to climb, he said, and added, “Just because we are out of the 100 deadliest days doesn’t mean we are no longer going to have fatalities.”
With that in mind, he said, the only way to turn the deadly trend around is for drivers to change their behaviors behind the wheel and make decisions that are focused on safety.
“It’s going to take more than the highway patrol to make that happen,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us.”
This report is based on statements from police, emergency personnel or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.
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