TOOELE — Utah is on track to have its lowest number of traffic fatalities in more than 50 years, but it's a much different story in Tooele County.
The county already has seen a fourfold increase in fatal accidents from 2011 to 2012. Three people were killed in traffic accidents in Tooele County in 2011. Through Wednesday, there had been 13 this year.
The Utah Highway Patrol reported Wednesday that while the rest of the state was getting better, there was a "substantial spike" in the number of fatal traffic accidents in Tooele County, with the majority of those accidents happening on I-80.
UHP Lt. Corey Nye attributes the sharp increase to speed, impairment and people not wearing seat belts.
"The majority of our fatals have a combination of all those in them," he said.
A board at UHP's Tooele office keeps track of motorists who have been caught traveling more than 100 mph in 2012. As of Wednesday, there were 402 motorists on the board. The top ticketed speed this year was for 148 mph. The top speed for an impaired driver so far this year was 120 mph, he said. Last year, 248 citations were issued for motorists going more than 100 mph.
Nye said his office has adjusted trooper hours, handed out more tickets and strategically done everything it can to cut down on the number of speeders and fatal accidents. The next step is for drivers to start questioning their own habits.
"Is operating at this speed … worth the thrill?" he said.
As of Wednesday, UHP had written 5,924 citations for speeding in 2012. A large number of the fatal accidents have happened on straightaway stretches of I-80 near the Salt Flats within 20 to 60 miles of the Nevada border at Wendover.
In most of this year's fatal accidents in Tooele County, Nye said, the victims would be alive if seat belts had been used.
"People have a false sense that they think the airbag has replaced the seat belt," he said, noting that both are needed to increase the odds of surviving a crash.3 comments on this story
On Nov. 21, a 26-year-old man was killed when the truck and trailer he was driving on I-80 rolled about 20 miles west of the junction with state Route 196. The man was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected. A 3-year-old in a car seat was also injured.
On Nov. 16, a 19-year-old driver traveling at a high rate of speed, not wearing a seat belt and with suspected impairment, was killed after his vehicle rolled several times and he was ejected on I-80.
"I'm to the point I'm honestly tired of doing death notifications," Nye said. "It's sad because it's the same story over and over again. I know I wouldn't have to be doing this if they were wearing their seat belt."