Utah traffic fatalities are at the highest point in four years, Utah Highway Patrol officials said Friday, and they are concerned that, as winter approaches, that highway deaths will continue to rise.
There were 238 traffic deaths reported as of Friday evening and, despite accident stories that cite wet roads, icy pavement, narrow roads and poor visibility, practically all motor vehicle accidents are caused by drivers, UHP traffic experts contend.UHP Sgt. Richard A. Greenwood, an accident reconstruction specialist, said most accidents could be avoided if drivers were more experienced, more attentive, less tired, less aggressive, drove more defensively, took more precautions and anticipated problems better.
"Certainly, there have been incidents where tires have blown out, vehicle malfunctions have occurred and road conditions have been unsafe," Greenwood said.
"But, statistics tend to suggest that a vehicle problem or defect is a factor in only 1 percent of all traffic accidents. When an accident happens on a wet or icy road, did the road cause the accident or did several drivers follow too closely to a car that was stopping or were they driving too fast for the road or weather conditions?"
On a typical 24-foot-wide paved roadway where vehicles travel 55 miles per hour, a vehicle goes 80 feet in one second. "At this speed, a second may be too little time for a driver to avoid an object in the road or avoid hitting a vehicle in front of him that has slammed on the brakes - if he has not been attentive or is traveling too close to the vehicle in front of him.
"Assume your headlights shine 200 feet ahead and a hazard appears while you are driving at night at 55 miles per hour. The normal driver will travel 140 feet during the time he perceives the situation and begins to apply his brakes."
Even on the best of surfaces, Greenwood said, a driver will need at least 112 feet to skid to a stop - "but he only has 60 feet to the hazard or obstruction.
"Sometimes, 55 miles per hour is too fast."
Fatigue or sleepiness, sickness, emotional stress, alcohol or another drug influence, not wearing prescribed eyewear and other debilitating conditions can diminish a driver's attentiveness or contribute to his inability to drive skillfully or react quickly to danger, Greenwood warned.
"Pay attention to winterizing your car, check your car's tires, alignment and road ability. Plan for slowups, bad roads and poor visibility in winter or rainy weather.
"But most of all, pay attention to yourself and to your ability to get behind the wheel and drive, safely, to your destination," Greenwood said.