On average, roughly one person died on Utah's roads every day for the second straight summer, Utah transportation and safety officials said Thursday during a press conference in West Valley City.
In all, 101 people died this year on Utah roads during the 102-day span between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, according to data provided Thursday by the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Department of Public Safety. This period of time is often called "100 Deadliest Days," alternately known as "Summer Safely."
"That is a lot of people," said Maj. Jeff Nigbur, the assistant superintendent for the Utah Highway Patrol. "We need to stop and think about those 101 people. They are daughters and sons. They are husbands, fathers, mothers, wives — run the whole gamut. When you stop to think about that, there's significance in that. And the even harder part to understand about that, and soak in, is the fact that most of these were preventable. They were due to bad driving behaviors."
One hundred and one people also died on Utah roads during the 109-day span between holiday weekends last year, but there were only 61 deaths in 102 days in 2019.
The deaths-per-day average reported this summer is the highest for the "100 Deadliest Days" since 2018, when there were 102 deaths in 102 days, and 2021's number is the third-highest since 2009. The program, run by the two departments, was created to educate motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians on safe practices to curb deaths on Utah roads during the summertime.
"This is a painful reminder, especially for the families of those victims that were killed on our roads. We shouldn't have to learn these lessons this way," said John Gleason, a spokesman for UDOT. "Let's take the information we have right now and make better decisions, be committed to being the safest drivers we can be, improving those areas and just improving overall safety on our roads."
Drivers and passengers of cars and trucks accounted for 76 of the 101 deaths this summer, which is a jump from 63 last year. Motorcyclists accounted for another 12 deaths, which is down from 20 last summer. There were also 12 pedestrians killed this summer and one bicyclist compared to 18 among the two groups during the 109-day span in 2020. Ten of the 101 people killed were listed as teenagers.
Officials said 94% of crashes are attributed to human error although a dust storm was blamed for the deadliest crash of the summer. Eight people were killed in a pileup crash on I-15 after the storm on July 25 made visibility nearly impossible in Millard County.
However, speeding (20 instances) and impaired driving (18 instances) were the two most commonly documented factors among fatal crashes in Utah this summer. At least 11 fatal crashes involved unrestrained drivers. Officials said most factors are unknown because it can be difficult to identify a behavior that led up to a crash.
"We see more fatalities in the summer months because there's a tendency to relax a little bit behind the wheel. There's a tendency to become complacent," Gleason said.
The two departments report there have now been 213 deaths on Utah roads this year entering Thursday. That's an increase from 182 deaths overall by the same point in 2020, which wound up as the deadliest year on Utah roads since 2016. Nigbur said law enforcement and education can only go so far and eventually drivers have to make better decisions on roads to help reduce vehicle fatalities.
Gleason urges drivers to slow down, pay attention to the road and wear a seat belt to help reduce fatal crashes. He also says drivers need to cool down before getting behind the wheel, too. The two departments found spikes in speed, aggressive and impaired driving deaths last year that continue to linger in 2021.
"We're seeing far too many instances of aggressive driving crashes and people maybe running red lights, driving angry ... and that's something that needs to change," he said. "I think all of us have been through so much over the last year and a half. You just have to make sure that when you're behind the wheel, you're not taking any of those thoughts or any aggression onto the road with you.
"Get to where you're going to safely and help everyone else get where they're going as well."