SALT LAKE CITY — For the second straight year, the number of people dying on Utah roadways has declined.
In 2018, 264 lives were lost, which was down 3.3 percent from 273 deaths in 2017, according to the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Department of Public Safety.
In 2017 numbers were 2.8 percent below the 281 fatalities reported in 2016.
Also last year, the number of impaired driving deaths was cut nearly in half, with 19 deaths recorded in 2018, down from 36 deaths in 2017. Similarly, the number of deaths involving people who were not wearing seat belts fell significantly, with 50 fatalities registered last year compared to 86 deaths in 2017.
Despite the sharp decline, officials say the number of people losing their lives due to poor choices is still very high.
"The bad part is that there are still 50 people who died in motor vehicle crashes and didn't have a seat belt on and missed a really great opportunity to potentially survive that crash," said Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich.
"Over 90 percent of our fatal crashes come down to choices. Whether it's a choice to put on a seat belt or a choice to drink and drive or a choice to drive much faster than everyone else or texting and driving."
He noted that distracted driving is well "underrepresented" in the data because of the difficulty of determining how some crashes were caused. While the results are sometimes devastating, drivers can often become overconfident or complacent when they get behind the wheel, thereby creating an environment for potential disaster.
"It doesn't take very long (to) look away from what is going on in a vehicle to end up in a crash," Rapich said, adding that driving is one of the riskiest behaviors the average person does most days and it should be taken very seriously for the safety of the driver and for others who could be impacted by their decision to drive.
Making safety the top priority when driving will help reduce the number of people that fall victim to tragedy on Utah roads, he said.
"Hopefully, we see the total number of fatalities drop," Rapich said. "Every one of them is a loved one who didn't come home. Every one of those (deaths) is a very horrible and tragic message that law enforcement had to deliver to a family and we don't want to see that."
The decrease in fatalities is attributable to various factors, including better law enforcement, quick emergency response, enhanced roadway engineering and improved education for motorists, according to Jason Davis, UDOT's deputy director for engineering and operations.
He said teaching drivers what behaviors can help reduce danger has been very beneficial over time. He noted that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error, which means that drivers can make a big difference if they make better choices.
"If we can educate the drivers and they make good decisions, then fatalities are going to go down and that zero (fatality) number is possible to achieve," he said.Comment on this story
Davis said distracted driving is one of biggest factors in roadway crashes and working to get drivers to maintain their attention of the task of controlling their vehicle will pay dividends long term.
"We all know from our experience and our own behavior that people are using their cellphones when they shouldn't be and driving distracted," he said. "It's causing crashes and taking lives. That's the one part of education that if you make a good decision and put your cellphone down, you're probably going to save some lives."