Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Jordin Petersen Seamons's husband, Devin, died about three and a half years ago, but she can still remember well the last moments of his life.
Standing about a foot from a large photo of their happy family, she wasn't far from where the young couple planned on going on Dec. 23, 2018. They were living in Logan and had just started their journey with their 2-year-old daughter south to Temple Square to view Christmas lights in Salt Lake City.
She remembers sitting in the passenger seat, texting a recipe to a friend before she glanced back to check on their daughter who had just fallen asleep in the back seat. She was in the middle of giving her husband a report on their child when something went horribly wrong.
"Right as I finished saying that, all of a sudden I see a car crossing over multiple lanes, looking almost as if she was going to turn left but there was nowhere to turn left, no road to turn left on," she recalled Thursday. "I said, 'Devin' — and when you're going 65-70 mph, there's no time to really react or think — and all of a sudden we were hit head-on by this other vehicle."
It turns out the woman in the other vehicle had dozed off at the wheel after deciding to drive on just three hours of sleep, causing her vehicle to swerve into the oncoming traffic and into the Seamons' car. The collision was so violent that the Seamons car rolled several times. Jordin Seamon and her daughter were miraculously fine; Devin Seamons, 29, was killed on impact.
Jordin Seamons suddenly found herself a widowed single mother at 24.
These stories are the everlasting impacts of poor driving decisions, says Utah Highway Patrol Maj. Jeff Nigbur. The message is as important today because this weekend marks the beginning of what is known as the "100 Deadliest Days" on Utah's roads, where the rate of fatal crashes between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends is about double the rate at any other point in the year.
Following an uptick in fatal crashes last year — which was the deadliest year on Utah roads in 19 years — and an alarming start to 2022, both the Utah Highway Patrol and Utah Department of Transportation are turning to the faces of the people killed on Utah's roadways and the destinations they were headed to as ways to emphasize the importance of slowing down and avoiding driving impaired, distracted or drowsy.
"These aren't numbers, they are real people," he said. "(Crashes) affect a lot of people — not only the person who makes the poor decision but other people who were innocently using the roadway that day."
There were 103 people killed on Utah roadways within a span of 102 days last summer. Nigbur said it's sometimes difficult to comprehend that figure, but it's equivalent to two tour buses full of people, an entire football team with coaches and staff or possibly even an entire congregation gone in a matter of months.
Over 300 people died on Utah roads last year; however, this year is on pace to be even deadlier. The organization Zero Fatalities, led by the Utah Department of Public Safety and Utah Department of Transportation, reports there have already been 116 deaths on roads across the state this year. That's eight more than this time last year.
I don't want to imagine what our summer is going to look like if we continue this trend.
–John Gleason, spokesman for Utah Department of Transportation
Twenty-eight are pedestrian fatalities, which is only 17 fewer than all of last year — and there are over 200 days left in 2022.
"I don't want to imagine what our summer is going to look like if we continue this trend," said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. "We're moving in the wrong direction and we need to make a change."
Overall crashes also remain high. There have already been 22,077 crashes this year, which is 199 fewer than the same time last year. Some causes of fatal crashes have jumped up in the past two years specifically, such as aggressive and impaired driving, and speed-related crashes.
Distracted driving is another problem at the moment, Nigbur added. Seat belt use also dropped to a five-year low in 2021.
"Our research has shown the majority of these deadly crashes are caused by human error," he said. "I've said this before and I will say it again: This is unequivocally unacceptable and we need to do something to change this."
All of this is why there's a renewed push for finding solutions to curb traffic deaths. Gleason said there will be increased advertisements on TV, radio and social media focused on the people who died on Utah's roads, sharing sobering stories like what happened to the Seamons family.
One of these campaigns is KSL's "Road to Zero Fatalities: You Hold the Key," which will encourage people to take a pledge to follow three ABCs of driving.
- Drive Attentive
- Drive Buckled
- Drive Calm
KSL-TV announced Thursday it is building an online memorial gallery remembering people killed on Utah roadways, as well.
Utah Highway Patrol troopers will also conduct more DUI blitzes and seat belt checks in the coming weeks and months, according to Nigbur. Utah transportation and public safety leaders are hopeful that all of the attention to the several trending unsafe driving habits will help reduce traffic fatalities in the state.
"We want everybody to have a good time and enjoy themselves," Gleason said. "But the way to get there is through safe driving."