Highway fatalities continue to decline

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SALT LAKE CITY -- More Utahns will head out on the highway for the 4th of July weekend than a year ago.

Utah Traffic Fatalities

Year# of deaths
Zero Fatalities

Over the years, it's been one of the deadliest times to drive, but fatalities are down significantly here in Utah and nationally.

The number of people killed in highway crashes is lower than it's been in decades. That's great news to the people who work on the highways to make the roads safer.

"It's really encouraging," says Sgt. Sheldon Riches, who has been with the Utah Highway Patrol two decades. "It makes us feel like we are making a difference out here."

Riches says he never expected to see a drop in the number of highway fatalities, especially when you consider our growing population. There are more cars on the road each year, and most years Utah motorists total more miles driven than the previous year.

Last year, 244 people died on Utah highways. That's down from 276 in 2008, and the lowest number since 1974.

In 2009, there were 244 deaths on Utah highways, the lowest number since 1974. So far, in 2010 there have been 95 highway deaths.

So far this year, 95 people have died, down 23 percent from the same time last year. Ten years ago, 373 people died on Utah Highways.

"When we're out there on the pavement, stopping and pulling over cars, we're trying to educate people on the main contributors of the crashes and trying to reduce them in that way," Riches says.

Other reasons for the reduction: The Sergeant points out that cars keep getting safer, airbags are mandatory, more people use seat belts, and brakes are better. Safety innovations on our highways make a difference, too.

Riches also gives a lot of credit to the people behind the wheel. Utah safety campaigns also play a part in educating all of us about following the rules of the road and driving safer.

Holiday Weekend Fatalities

New Year's Day50021
Memorial Day72264
Independence Day932121
Pioneer Day45341
Labor Day36622
Zero Fatalities

"It's not just us," he says. "The citizens of this state and everybody who travels the roadways make a difference. It's nice to see what happens when everyone complies with the laws."

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah has averaged five fatalities during this holiday weekend in the past five years. State troopers will be out at checkpoints checking for drunken drivers and enforcing seat belt laws.

Nationally, highway fatalities last year dropped to the lowest level since 1954. That was a drop of nearly 9 percent from 2008 to 2009.

It's a positive trend, but the UHP wants to see even more positive progress.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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Jed Boal


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