To the editor:

Lee Davidson's Dec. 18 article "Are Utah drivers accident prone?" quotes some interesting statistics, but the commentary directs the reader to an unsupported conclusion. The more typical anecdote and driver opinion is to the effect that Utah drivers are pretty bad.But this opinion is based on actual driving experience rather than on statistics or research on driver behavior or accident data.

Two years of driving experience in California has led me to believe that, as a group, drivers there are comparatively more courteous and exhibit more driving savvy particularly with regard to freeway "etiquette" and strategies.

But to say that Utah's drivers are the worst of the Western states based on insurance claim rates is a conclusion not warranted by an examination of more complete data. Strange as it may seem, the vehicle mileage death rate of Utah is very low, if not the lowest of the Western states, and has been for years.

Utah drivers can be made to appear the worst or the best (of the West) depending on which ranking system is used. The reason for this paradox is that among the states, fatality rates have a positive correlation with rural non-freeway vehicle mileage, but the non-fatal accident rate has a positive correlation with urban vehicle mileage. Even though Utah is normally considered a fairly rural state, rural vehicle mileage is only about 25 percent of the total. The remainder of vehicle mileage is either urban or freeway.

Therefore, it is no surprise that Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, and part of Utah counties have rather high insurance claim rates along with urbanized areas such as Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. States with the highest vehicle mileage fatality rates include New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and Idaho.

H. Wayne Overson

Department of criminal justice

Weber State College