SALT LAKE CITY — The 215 traffic fatalities on Utah roads in 2012 marked the state's lowest total since 1959, transportation officials announced Thursday.
It's a step in the right direction, but still too far from zero, said John Njord, Utah Department of Transportation executive director.
"By the end of the year, we had decreased by 12 percent from the previous year, which is a good trend,” Njord said. “We are trending toward zero, and we won't be satisfied until we get there.”
Sixty-four of the state's fatalities occurred in Salt Lake County, with 20 in Utah County, 17 in Tooele County and 15 in Davis County. Piute and Iron counties both reported zero fatalities.
Nationally, traffic fatalities increased by 7 percent in the first nine months 2012, Njord said.
Several factors have helped reduce the number of fatal crashes in Utah, he said, including safer vehicles. Safety features in newer vehicles include air bags, anti-lock brakes, stability control systems and crumple zones.
But the most important safety feature, Njord said, is the seat belt. Not buckling up contributed to the highest number of fatalities, 67, with nearly one-third of fatalities involving drivers or passengers not wearing seat belts.
“We need more people to buckle up,” Njord said. "People who choose to buckle up, they are 50 percent more likely to survive a crash."
Aggressive driving played a role in 49 of the fatalities, and drowsy driving was responsible for 14 of the fatal crashes, according to UDOT.
Improvement to the highway system also helped make roads safer. Accidents where drivers crossed the median on interstates and collided with oncoming vehicles typically end in one or more fatalities. UDOT installed hundreds of miles of cable and cement barriers and added rumble strips to help people stay in their lanes, Njord said.
In 2002, there were nearly 200 crossover crashes, he said.Comment on this story
“This year, it's so small, it's barely measurable," Njord said. “We've really made a very significant dent in crossover crashes.”
Education also played a role in the decrease in fatalities. Representatives from the Zero Fatalities campaign gave more than 400 presentations to students going through driver education courses.
Better emergency services, enforcement work by the Utah Highway Patrol and law enforcement agencies also helped reduce the number of fatalities, UDOT officials said.