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As clock changes, doctors hope driving habits do, too

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Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV

Last year, Utah had 45 fatal auto-pedestrian crashes.

So far, in 2022, through Thursday, there have already been 43 fatal incidents across the state.

With Halloween weekend coming up, as well as Daylight Saving Time ending — meaning clocks in Utah will be set back an hour making it darker earlier in the day — the state teamed up with emergency room doctors at Intermountain Medical Center on Thursday to remind both drivers and pedestrians to be more focused this fall and winter.

"We see a 6% increase in fatalities that week alone. It's remarkable the change we see this time of year," Dr. Harland Hayes, an emergency room physician at Intermountain Medical Center, said of the effect of the time changing.

Because of that, both Hayes and the Utah Highway Patrol are imploring both drivers and pedestrians to change their habits.

"We've seen an increase in a lot of risky driving behavior such as impaired driving, distracted driving," UHP Sgt. Cameron Roden said of the high number of fatal auto-pedestrian crashes the state has had this year.

This week alone, a Springville High School student was hit and killed while walking to school. Another pedestrian was critically injured, just hours before Thursday's press conference, in downtown Salt Lake City.

Hayes says a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle can cause the "full spectrum of injuries," ranging from road rash and broken bones, to skull fractures, head trauma and death.

"They can be going 20, they can be going 10 mph. Cars are big heavy objects, and when they collide with people and that person hits the asphalt and that head hits the asphalt, we can see injuries at almost any speed," he said.

For drivers, he encourages people to "tune in," especially when approaching crosswalks, and put the phone down.

"If you're driving a car, stay focused. Put your phone aside. Put it on a 'Do not disturb' setting so you're not tempted to look at text messages, to text others. Pay attention," Hayes said.

Likewise, Roden says he has the same advice for pedestrians who are crossing a road: don't have your head buried in your phone.

"Don't automatically assume you have the right of way and start to cross," he said. "Distracted walking is just as dangerous as distracted driving."

In addition to crossing in crosswalks and well-lit areas, the Utah Highway Patrol is putting an emphasis this fall on encouraging pedestrians to wear reflective clothing at night.

"Sometimes people think, 'Hey, I'm wearing bright clothing.' But that bright clothing looks the same as any other clothing when it's dark," Roden said.

Most importantly, Hayes says it should be a cooperative effort between drivers and pedestrians to make sure everyone gets home safe.

"It's very helpful for the pedestrian and the driver to make eye contact to acknowledge each other. If you're a pedestrian on the phone texting, emailing, on the web, and you don't acknowledge that driver, you don't have those non-verbal cues: 'OK, we see each other. I'm going to proceed' or 'I'm going to wait," he said.

"Remember, it doesn't matter who has the right of way when it comes to pedestrians and cars. What we want to do is avoid injury and death."

In addition to the end of daylight saving time causing problems, Roden acknowledges that Halloween has become one of the biggest parties of the year for both children and adults. The Utah Highway Patrol reminds residents to not drink and drive. And if they do, Roden said there will be extra troopers on the road statewide this weekend, working DUI enforcement.