Traffic fatalities are down, but push is on to hit zero

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 7:55 p.m. MST

Utah Highway Patrol trooper Carlos Holley makes a stop on I-215 on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. and Utah is at the lowest levels in decades. But tens of thousands of people continue to die on roads across the country, and the push is on to do something about it.

A report released this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed highway deaths fell in 2011 to their lowest level since 1949 at 32,367.

In Utah, the number of people killed on state roads dropped 5.1 percent to 240 from 2010 to 2011, according to national statistics. The Utah Department of Public Safety's number is three more for 2011, 243 deaths, the state's lowest level since 1974.

Through the first two weeks of December this year, Utah had 196 traffic fatalities, according to DPS. Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird said at the current rate, Utah could have its lowest number of fatalities since 1959 when there were 205.

But highway safety officials said even one death is too many. And with the busy holiday travel season coming up, officials are issuing warnings on driving under the influence, distracted driving and driving while drowsy.

Thursday afternoon, a child was was killed and two people were injured in a head-on crash about 15 miles west of Vernal.

The crash happened about 4:45 p.m. on U.S. 40 near the junction with state Route 88. The Utah Highway Patrol said Angela Davis, 34, of Roosevelt, was driving east in a red Honda Civic when she crossed into the oncoming lane and hit another Honda Civic head-on.

The impact of the crash tore the red car in half, ejecting Davis and 12-year-old TJ Seely from the car, troopers said. The car's front half and its back half landed about 150 feet from each other.

Seely, of Roosevelt, died at the scene. His body, draped with a sheet, lay near a pair of red tennis shoes about 20 feet away from where the front half of the car had come to rest.

Davis was transported by ambulance to Ashley Regional Medical Center in critical condition and then flown by medical helicopter to a hospital in Salt Lake City, troopers said.

The driver of the other car, 51-year-old Blair Kay of Mona, was also transported to Ashley Regional with minor injuries, according to UHP.

Troopers say Davis' car may have experienced a flat tire, leading to the crash, but they are still trying to determine exactly what happened. They do not believe speed or impairment contributed to the crash.

Troopers expect to return to the scene Friday to continue their investigation.

At downtown Salt Lake City's Gateway on Thursday, law enforcers from several jurisdictions joined together to remind motorists to "drive sober or get pulled over." The Utah Highway Patrol counted 39 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2011 compared with 25 in 2010. The NHTSA report tabulated 53 in its report, however, for 2011, up from 46.

Baird was unsure of the reason for the discrepancies in numbers but believed it was because each report was tabulated using different sources.

To kickoff their annual don't-drink-and-drive campaign, local law enforcers used 8-foot tall snowmen — some that appeared to have been hit by a car — to simulate a drunken driving accident scene.

"Our goal is for zero. We want every single day to be a day free of a person who dies from a drunk driver … a weekend free," said UHP Col. Daniel Fuhr. "We see it differently than just a snowman. We see it as actual people we've seen in our minds that are not breathing anymore that should be breathing, and that's traumatic for us."

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