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MURRAY — A disturbing trend of rising pedestrians deaths has the state Department of Transportation calling on Utahns to change their behavior to limit tragedy along the roads.
Utah has already experienced 10 pedestrian deaths in just the first quarter of this year, prompting the state to employ a somewhat humorous approach to a very serious subject as a way to get people's attention.
"There's a concern that we're going to see this number increase," UDOT spokesman John Gleason said. "2018 was one of the deadliest years nationwide for pedestrians on our roads."
In conjunction with the state's Zero Fatalities campaign, UDOT and the Utah Highway Patrol put on display "the world's most pedestrian-friendly car" at Larry H. Miller Honda in Murray Monday. The car is equipped with air horns, light bars, front and rear exterior airbags, perimeter lighting, a public address system and high-visibility flags. It's meant to be a literal representation to drivers that they can do more to look for individuals using more-vulnerable modes of transportation, explained Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street.
"The idea here is to ask people — whether driver or pedestrian — to make sure you're watching out for other people," Gleason said. Pedestrians should make sure to wear bright, reflective clothing to make themselves stand out, he added.
A recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association reveals that the number of pedestrian fatalities in 2018 reached the highest level in nearly 30 years, and data indicate that nationally pedestrian fatalities are climbing. In the Beehive State, officials are worried about the trend occurring here.
The state saw 43 pedestrian fatalities in 2017 and 37 in 2018, Gleason said. Utah historically averages about 40 pedestrian deaths per year, he noted. I
"Don't assume that just because you can see a vehicle when it's approaching that they can see you (because) often times they can't," he said. "Drivers (also) have to be on the lookout for pedestrians and bicyclists."
He mentioned that drivers often get complacent when heading down a familiar stretch of road, but that can lead to disastrous circumstances if something out of the ordinary happens or if drivers become distracted.
"Maybe (the pedestrian) is in a crosswalk that you're not expecting," he said. "The results can be terrible."
He said that drivers and pedestrians have the responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and to avoid being excessively engrossed in their devices or using headphones that prevent them from noticing what's happening around them.
"If you're out walking on the sidewalk and you're about to cross the road, it doesn't matter how loud or visible a vehicle may be, if you're not paying attention you're not going to see it," he said. "The same can be said for drivers."
"It really does take a constant effort to be focused on the road, whether you're a bicyclist or pedestrian or a driver, we have a responsibility to watch out for each other," Gleason said.
Street also reiterated that being distracted can be the difference between life and death for pedestrians or other vulnerable individuals.
"It's easy to take your eyes off the wheel for that split second to look at who's calling or to look at a text message or send one (which is against the law)," he said. "It's in that small window that we see those issues."
He also warned drivers to be particularly careful on residential streets where small children could run out from between two parked cars.
"Ask yourself, 'If a child ran out would I be able to stop in time?'" he said. "If the answer is 'no,' then you need to change some behavior."
He added that educating kids to look both ways before crossing the street and making them aware of the dangers that are present around vehicles in the roadway can help prevent potential tragedies.
"The causes of (fatal incidents) can be mitigated with people paying better attention on both ends," Street said.