I think we live in a world where sometimes it’s easy to see what happens to others but it could never happen to me. I think that realization that it’s just as likely to happen to me is something that we maybe don't come to grips with. —Carlos Braceras, UDOT's executive director
SALT LAKE CITY — Failing to wear a seat belt was the primary factor in most fatal crashes in Utah in 2013, according to statistics released Tuesday.
The Utah Department of Transportation report showed that 71 of the 219 fatalities were attributed to improper restraint — more than any other factor in crash-related deaths.
Carlos Braceras, UDOT's executive director, said the best way to bring those numbers down is to get Utahns to buckle up.
"It seems to make so much sense — putting on a seat belt every time, before you start your car, before you pull away from the parking spot," Braceras said.
Aggressive driving resulted in 50 deaths; 31 deaths were motorcycle fatalities; 30 were pedestrian fatalities; and 28 were DUI or impaired accidents, according to the report. Overall, fatalities on Utah roads were up by two from 2012 but down 41 percent from 2000.
"Even though we’re frustrated and we haven’t gotten to zero fatalities yet, we have to really recognize how far we’ve come," Braceras said. "We've made a tremendous amount of progress in the last 13 years, but there's still a ways to go."
Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring a bill in the 2014 Legislature that would make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense on freeways and highways with speed limits of 55 mph or higher.
"With the numbers from UDOT, it’s clear that we can certainly, as a policy, decrease the fatalities by having people know that there will be an interaction with law enforcement if they’re not wearing their seat belt," Robles said.
If SB128 passes, the first year would be an opportunity for law enforcement officers to discuss why wearing seat belts is so important and give warnings instead of tickets, she said.
"We do have a great culture in our state of people just following the law and wearing (seat belts) because it's safe," Robles said. "But we still have a group of individuals that I think we can do more in educating."
Braceras said UDOT supports the bill and that compliance has increased in other states where wearing a seat belt is a primary offense.
"We've spoken in favor of a seat belt law," he said. "(The) facts tell us it will save lives. Hopefully it's successful this year."
Bill Lee, of Springville, said he rarely fastens his seat belt.
"It's annoying, and I just don't do it, really," he said. "I don't even think about it."
Lee said even though he's been told of the dangers, he doesn't buckle up unless he's in a car with others and could inadvertently injure them.
Natalie Trejo, of Cedar City, said she usually wears her seat belt. When she doesn't, it's because she's lazy, she said.
"Wearing your seat belt is a habit to get into," Trejo said. "If I'm not wearing my seat belt, it's usually when I'm driving a short distance, so I think, 'Oh, just drive safely because that's not going to happen to me.'"
Braceras said Utahns need to realize they are not invincible.
"I think we live in a world where sometimes it’s easy to see what happens to others but it could never happen to me," he said. "I think that realization that it’s just as likely to happen to me is something that we maybe don't come to grips with."
Wearing a seat belt, Braceras said, is a personal responsibility, "not only for yourself, but for everybody else on the road. Every time you get behind the wheel of the car, you are responsible for everybody else out there."