In our opinion: As Utah highway fatalities spike, drivers should remember to use caution

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, June 19 2014 10:25 a.m. MDT

Drowsiness and excessive speed are two of the four main contributors to highway deaths in Utah. The other two are impaired driving and the failure to use seat belts. Refusing to buckle up has been a factor in nearly half of this year’s fatalities.

Alan Neves, Deseret News

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The rate of fatalities from accidents on Utah highways has shot up sharply in recent months, and while there may be no single cause, the increase is nonetheless cause for concern. By Memorial Day, 64 people were killed in road accidents, compared to 51 by the same time last year. In the three-week period following the holiday there have been 11 more fatalities.

The numbers represent real people with lives cut short, leaving behind grieving families and friends. Sadly, the Utah Highway Patrol says many of the deaths may have been prevented. Half of those who died were not wearing seat belts.

The Highway Patrol launched what it calls a summer-long safety “blitz” in reaction to the higher death rates. Rigorous law enforcement is one of the ways the state can help combat highway fatalities. The other is through public awareness campaigns, like those offered by the state’s Zero Fatalities program, which is overseen by a coalition of law enforcement and public health agencies.

The Zero Fatalities initiative is premised on indications borne out by years of data: publicizing accident prevention leads to safer driving. Motorists must keep safety in mind as the July holiday season approaches — traditionally the most dangerous period of time in Utah for fatal vehicle accidents.

Highway safety experts say the recent spike in fatalities is alarming because of a general long-term trend toward safer travel on Utah roads. The rate of deaths per 100,000 people has dropped from about 15 to 10 since 1999, a reduction of about 25 percent. The latest spike is not statistically attributable to any particular cause, though the Highway Patrol says a large percentage of the recent accidents have involved vehicle rollovers, generally resulting from drowsy driving or driving too fast.

Drowsiness and excessive speed are two of the five main contributors to highway deaths in Utah. The other three are impaired driving, distracted driving and the failure to use seat belts. Refusing to buckle up has been a factor in nearly half of this year’s fatalities.

Law enforcement agencies plan to step up patrols during busy travel periods and in areas where travel may be treacherous and traffic congested. The Utah Highway Patrol says that it plans to particularly increase its presence along canyon roads and near recreational areas.

Such plans are wise. Yet the vigilance of a police officer is not nearly as effective as the diligence of an individual driver. Take measures to prevent a road trip from turning tragic.

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