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SALT LAKE CITY — If someone has cut you off in traffic, tailgated dangerously close or blew past you on I-15, you might argue that Utah drivers are worse than those in other states.
However, based on surveys and statistics, Utah drivers are more “middle of the pack” than “bottom of the barrel.”
"I sometimes hear that Utah drivers are the worst but I don’t think that is the case,” said Brent Wilhite, a spokesman for Utah’s Zero Fatalities safety program. “I think you have to look at your own driving habits. You have probably done the same thing to someone else on the highway."
You have to look at your own driving habits. You have probably done the same thing to someone else on the highway.
–Brent Wilhite, Utah's Zero Fatalities program
Allstate Insurance got in on the best driver bandwagon, ranking the country's top 200 largest cities. Using actuarial research on how frequently drivers will be involved in a crash, Salt Lake City was number 102, with an average 9.2 years between collisions.
The state ranked 20th on a Motorcycleinsurance.org national scorecard, which used responses to questions from driver tests.
Wilhite said Utah has the lowest alcohol-related fatality rate in the nation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that of the 235 fatalities in the state, only 22 percent involved alcohol. For most states, alcohol is involved in anywhere from 33 to 54 percent of traffic fatalities.
Corporal Todd Johnson of Utah’s Department of Public Safety said excessive speed is the leading cause for crashes in the state.
“Most of our crashes are rear-end collisions with drivers following too close behind another vehicle,” he said. “If we could get people to slow down, buckle up and concentrate on the road, we would have safer conditions,” Johnson added.
Utah had 235 fatalities in 2010, the lowest number of traffic fatalities in more than 30 years. Wilhite said the state’s high percentage of seat belt usage is one of the key factors.
Utah’s rising generation, however, is doing better than its elders. U.S. News and World Report conducted its own rankings of the states, focused on teen drivers. With criteria that included percent of teens with licenses, teen driver deaths per year and percent of teen driver deaths involving alcohol or drugs and state laws in several areas, the magazine ranked Utah an impressive 9th.
Knowledge of the rules of the road is one way to measure the proficiency of a state’s drivers. GMAC Insurance surveyed more than 5,200 Americans on driving knowledge and Utah respondents ranked 22nd among all states. Utah averaged 78.1 on the quiz, which used 20 questions from driver handbooks.
Overall, the findings do not evoke a lot of confidence in our fellow motorists nationwide. The study found that one in five licensed drivers, some 39 million people, would not pass a written driver exam if taken today.
For example, 85 percent could not identify the correct action to be taken when approaching a steady yellow traffic light. One in three drivers don’t usually stop for pedestrians, even if they are in a crosswalk or at a yellow light, and admit to speeding up to make a yellow with pedestrians present.
Nationally, the culture of traffic in America seems to be on the decline. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2010 Traffic Safety Culture Index found the following:
- One of every two Americans has been involved in a serious crash, has had a friend or relative seriously injured or killed in a crash, or both.
- More than half of all drivers say driving feels less safe today than it did five years ago.
- More than two-thirds of drivers report talking on the cell phone while driving; and one in three say they do so fairly often or regularly.
- Nearly 25 percent of drivers admit to texting or emailing while driving.
- Forty-five percent of drivers say they have driven 15 mph over the speed limit on the freeway in the past month — and nearly one third say they consider it acceptable to do so.