The number of people killed in Utah highway accidents in 1988 was 297 - the same number of traffic fatalities for 1987. But a state official says the 1988 figures actually equate to a decline because more drivers were on the road.

Gary Whitney, Utah Department of Transportation spokesman, said the number of drivers in the state increased about 2 percent in 1988."Even though the numbers (of fatalities) are the same right now, that reflects a slight improvement (because) the number of drivers has increased each year," he said.

Whitney said the 1988 count still could change slightly because not all people injured in accidents last year have been discharged from hospitals. However, the final count would not change by one or two fatalities, if at all, he said.

Statistics also indicate more drivers are wearing seat belts, Whitney said, citing last month's 67-car pileup on I-215 as an example. "The officers noted that in that pileup there were no severe injuries (because) almost everyone was wearing seat belts." Still, statewide seat-belt use is only about 40 percent.

Utah is among the few states that had no change in fatalities after the 65-mph speed limit took effect last year, Whitney said.