SALT LAKE CITY — Hit-and-run accidents are on the rise on average across the rest of the country.
However, Utah sets a standard for its number of hit-and-runs compared to many other states, having the fourth lowest, according to data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
In 2016 — the most recent year in the foundation's data — California saw a staggering 337 hit-and-run accidents. By contrast, Utah had six such incidents, the least since 2010.
But that doesn't mean the Beehive State is immune to recent accidents involving pedestrians who were jaywalking or crossing the road using crosswalks.
Forty-two pedestrians were killed by motorists in the state last year, according to the Utah Department of Transportation.
"Last winter, there was a number of people that were actually struck by vehicles in crosswalks," said Gary Keller, spokesman for the South Salt Lake Police Department. His department ran a Crosswalk Traffic Enforcement Operation at two crosswalks Thursday where police say they've received "several complaints" that drivers aren't stopping.
Among recent accidents involving pedestrians in northern Utah:
• In November, a man was killed when a vehicle struck him in a crosswalk in West Valley City.
• In December, a man died after he was struck while crossing the road in Taylorsville. Investigators said he did not use a crosswalk.
• In January,two teenage girls were injured when a car struck them in a crosswalk in West Jordan.
• Also in January, a 23-year-old man was killed when crossing the road in Midvale. Investigators said the victim was not using a crosswalk.
"We just want to make motorists aware and pedestrians aware of where they're crossing, to keep everybody safe. That's our objective," Keller said Thursday.
Officers ran the operation at the crosswalks on Gregson Avenue (3050 South) and State Street, and at Sunset Avenue and State Street, to help educate the public about what they should do when they approach a crosswalk, and to tell pedestrians how they can keep themselves safe.
Officer Jerry Silva acted as a pedestrian, repeatedly crossing the road, as three officers on motorcycles and one in a patrol car stood by.
Police set up orange traffic cones near the intersection to give approaching motorists warning. When motorists drove through without waiting for Silva to cross, the officers standing by pulled over those they could and wrote them citations.
"We're not out here to write a lot of tickets, or to see how many tickets we can write," Keller explained. "Unfortunately, the best way to make people more aware is to write citations."
When a crosswalk is on a divided roadway, like at Gregson Avenue and State Street, motorists must be stopped as soon as the pedestrian enters their side of the road. They can resume driving when the pedestrian has reached the median.
When a road is not divided, motorists must remain stopped until pedestrians cross safely to the other side of the road.
Keller said it's important for drivers to be aware of "perception time and reaction time." It takes 1 1/2 seconds for a car to physically slow down. During that 1 1/2 seconds, a car going 35 mph will travel about 79 feet, he said.
"People have to be very aware. As they drive, they want to recognize where the crosswalks are on their way to work. I drive State Street to work, and so I know this is here. And so even before I get to the crosswalk, I already put my foot on the break, so I've cut down my reaction time," Keller said.
Not only does failing to yield to pedestrians carry a high risk, it carries a high cost. If pulled over, the citation costs about $120, Keller said.
Pedestrians also carry some responsibility for crossing the road safely. As part of the operation, police were watching for people jaywalking. "Improper use of roadway by a pedestrian," or jaywalking, carries a $50 fine.
As Keller explained crosswalk safety, Silva again entered the crosswalk looking for clearance to cross.
"Watch this — there's one, there's two, there's three, there's four, there's five vehicles," Keller counted as cars sped through, despite Silva clearly waiting to cross.
Often, motorists will fail to stop, after the example of vehicles in front of them.2 comments on this story
"They'll think: 'Well, it's OK, that car went through.' But it is not. You're responsible for your own driving," Keller explained.
"And then for pedestrians, they need to watch for traffic just as (Silva) does," he said.
For Silva, watching closely every time he crossed the street, "It's nerve-wracking, because you want to make sure you have eye contact. Because if they're not stopping, I need to make a decision," he said.
He said factors that contribute to people failing to yield to pedestrians are distractions such as phones, and motorists following too close and speeding.