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SALT LAKE CITY — A holiday weekend used to be connected with a spike in highway fatalities. But, that's not the case anymore. In fact, holiday fatalities continue to decline in Utah, along with the overall number of deaths on our roads.
Since 2000, there has been a 37 percent decline in highway fatalities. Last year, there were zero fatalities during the Thanksgiving weekend which was down from nine fatalities just five years earlier.
If someone you care about dies in a car crash, that's certainly one too many. That's the approach Utah takes with its Zero Fatalities campaign.
"The public is really taking hold of these messages, and improving safety on their own," said UDOT Director of Traffic and Safety, Robert Hull.
Wearing seat belts, not driving drunk or drowsy, and putting away cell phones are a few of the rules and habits that the Zero Fatalities campaign is trying to implement.
It would appear the public is taking driving safety more seriously with a decline of 373 fatalities to 243 fatalities over the past 12 year span. This year, Utah has 180 recorded traffic fatalities.
"This year, compared to last year, we're down about 16 percent," Hull said.
Holiday travel numbers give a smaller data set, but there is a decline in fatalities there, as well. In 2006, nine fatalities were reported the week of Thanksgiving, and during Christmas there were 10 fatalities. Then in 2008, the numbers dropped to three Thanksgiving fatalities and one on Christmas. Last year, there were zero fatalities on Thanksgiving and only one on Christmas. But, there were 12 on July 4th.
"People are getting the message," said Utah Highway Patrol, Cpl. Todd Johnson. "They're being more responsible for the most part when they drive, and we're seeing fewer fatalities."
- 2006: 9 on Thanksgiving
- 10 on Christmas
- 2008: 3 on Thanksgiving
- 1 on Christmas
- 2011: 0 on Thanksgiving
- 1 on Christmas
- 12 on July 4th
Safer car models as well as recent innovative road improvements have helped to reduce traffic fatalities over the year too. But, the people who work the roads and study the numbers say that the biggest difference is public education and collaborative programs that focus on zero fatalities.
Weather also plays a relatively insignificant role in fatal crashes. Around 80 percent of all fatal crashes in Utah happen on dry roads.
"Year after year, the majority of the crashes that occur are during dry conditions and sunny conditions," Hull said.
But, the goal remains for zero fatalities during the holidays.
"We're happy that we're having this downward trend, and we're happy that we're seeing the number this year, but we know we have a lot of work still left to do," Hull said.
Seat belts reduce the risk of fatality 70 percent. And that's an area where Utah can improve.
More troopers will be on the roads across the state over the next few days so they can assist in reaching a zero fatalities holiday.