TAYLORSVILLE — Fewer people were killed on Utah's roads during 2017 than the year before.
But there were still 273 fatalities last year, and Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director Carlos Braceras said that's no reason to celebrate.
"We don’t take any solace in the fact that it’s a little better. It needs to be much better," he said Wednesday.
Of those 273 fatalities, 69 percent were men and 31 percent were women, according to year-end totals announced Wednesday by UDOT and the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Despite the annual goal of "zero fatalities," already in 2018 there has been eight fatalities on Utah's roads, leading some to question whether zero fatalities is even realistic.
"It’s a goal to set that we really do believe that someday, we will reduce the number so much by focusing on something that seems out of touch,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires.
Vehicles and roads are safer today than they ever have been, Braceras said. There were 329 fatalities in 2001 compared to 273 today, showing the overall trend is down, he noted. Still, Braceras said it is important not to dwell too much on numbers.
"These are people. These are mothers, fathers, our kids," he said.
While announcing last year's numbers, the two departments also on Wednesday launched their latest awareness campaign, "Join the Resistance," aimed at encouraging drivers not to become distracted.
"Distracted driving continues to worsen because we have more distractions. We have so much technology,” Squires said. "Unfortunately, it’s increasing the numbers of people becoming injured and sometimes dying because of that."
Twenty people lost their lives last year due to distracted driving, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
"It’s so important that we just resist that distraction. Put your phone down. Don’t eat that sandwich. Wait to you get where you’re going. … I will challenge anyone to tell me, what is more important that saving a life? What do you do behind the wheel that is more important?” Braceras said.
While the number of deaths caused by distracted driving was actually down in 2017 compared to 2016, the number of fatalities caused by "aggressive drivers," or people speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, more than doubled, according to public safety officials.2 comments on this story
Eighty-five people were killed due to aggressive driving in 2017, 74 of those due to speed, Squires said. The other 11 were attributed to "reckless driving and street racing."
Those "aggressive" drivers are people who typically would never cut in line at a store, but they feel a sort of anonymity when they get behind the wheel, he said.
Another statistic that increased in 2017 is the number of people not wearing their seat belts, Squires said. Even if a driver thinks they are the safest person on the road, he said everyone must wear a seat belt because you don't know how safe the other drivers are.
Contributing: Peter Samore