The number of suicides nearly equaled the number of people killed in car crashes as the leading cause of injury deaths in Utah, according to a Utah Department of Health report released Friday.

After four years of gradual decline in the number of suicides, 1990 saw a 25 percent increase.Those older than 75 have the highest suicide rate, although there are more people aged 15 to 24 who commit suicide.

The Utah suicide rate is higher than the U.S. rate but is the lowest among the eight mountain states - Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.

In about 30 years, the male teenage suicide rate has nearly tripled. In nearly 20 years, the female teenage suicide rate has doubled.

The purpose of the report is to identify who is at risk and what can be done about that risk, says Rebecca Giles, research and development specialist with the health department.

"Many of the injuries and deaths discussed in this report are predictable and preventable. Teaching high-risk groups simple auto safety measures such as slowing down, buckling seat belts and not drinking and driving can greatly reduce deaths and injuries," said Giles.

But preventing suicide is more complex. It is hoped that the report will alert mental health and law enforcement professionals to target high-risk groups and teach prevention, she said.

An average of 62 percent of suicide victims use a firearm, 23 percent use poison, 12 percent hang or suffocate themselves and 3 percent use a variety of methods (such as jumping from a high place or drowning).

Two-thirds of all males use firearms to commit suicide. Females most frequently use poison (43 percent) or firearms (39 percent).

There is some good news in the report: The percent of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities seems to be decreasing. In 1986, 33 percent of all fatalities in Utah involved alcohol while in 1990, 22 percent involved alcohol.

Utah has an annual death rate of 15.7 deaths per 100,000 people due to motor vehicle crashes between 1986 and 1990. Wasatch County had the highest average annual death rate at 37 per 100,000, while Davis County had the lowest at 10 per 100,000.

An average of 49,441 motor vehicle crashes were reported each year between 1986 and 1990. Nearly half of the crashes resulted in injuries to vehicle occupants or pedestrians.

Homicides are the fifth leading cause of deaths due to injury in Utah. There were an average of 55 homicides each year between 1986 and 1990.

Drownings were the sixth leading cause of injury deaths in Utah.

Unlike cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, injuries disproportionately strike the young. "It is important to consider how the deaths of so many young people affects the future in terms of lost productivity and contributions to society," the health report states.

CHART

Suicides

Utah 1986-90

1986: 241

1987: 237

1988: 228

1989: 212

1990: 265

Suicides rate by age

Age Deaths Rate per 100,000

0-4 0 0

5-14 26 1.5

15-24 260 18.2

25-34 234 16.8

35-44 221 20.8

45-54 146 22.3

55-64 121 23.0

65-74 88 20.4

75+ 87 27.2

TOTAL 1183 14.0