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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has the worst drivers in the nation, at least according to a report published Monday by an insurance marketplace company.
LendingTree rated the Beehive State last among all 50 U.S. states, noting that it led the nation in speeding infractions while also placing among the top 10 in citations, accidents and DUIs. Utah — which was 22nd on the company's annual list in 2020 and sixth last year — edged out California, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio for the dubious top spot this year.
The company says it crafted its list by reviewing "millions" of insurance quotes from drivers across the country, specifically analyzing accidents, speeding tickets, DUIs and citations.
While not included in the report, Utah had its deadliest year on the roadways in nearly two decades last year. This year has also been almost as deadly. Utah Department of Public Safety and Utah Department of Transportation data shows that, as of Tuesday, there have been 305 deaths on Utah roads this year, which is nine below last year's figure by the first week of December.
Deaths on Utah roads were on a downward trajectory, falling to 248 in 2019 before bouncing upward again starting in 2020. There have also been 55,550 crashes this year, a slight decrease from last year.
But Utah's trends also aren't unique, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The road safety organization notes that U.S. traffic deaths rose to nearly 43,000 in 2021, a 16-year high. It adds that preliminary 2022 data — information from the first six months of the year — indicate that numbers are still rising across the country.
Cathy Chase, the organization's president, acknowledges that speeding, one of the key datasets in LendingTree's analysis, is one of the major reasons behind negative road safety across the country over the past three years.
"(In addition to deaths), crashes injure millions of people each year and impose a comprehensive cost on society of more than $1 trillion," she said during a press briefing on Tuesday. "This horrific toll must serve as a blaring walk-up call to policymakers at all levels of government to take action to reverse this upward trajectory."
Where Utah's traffic safety laws rank
Despite the increase in crashes and deaths, Utah has some good traffic safety policies, leaders of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety say, but the state could make some improvements. The organization gave the Beehive State's traffic laws an overall 6 out of 12, resulting in a "yellow" rating in its updated Roadmap to Safety report released on Tuesday.
The organization's points system is made up of six road safety law categories that carry up to two points. Any state with eight points or more receives a green rating, which is considered good. Anything in red, or danger, is three points to lower. Everything between falls under yellow.
"We really tried to simplify this report so it's very obvious what states can do to upgrade their state laws," Chase explained. "It shows what they're missing and what they need to do."
The annual report specifically lauds Utah's impaired driving laws, including its 0.05 blood-alcohol concentration limit, a policy that the organization says all states should adopt. Chase said there are several states considering this legislation in 2023. The report also rates Utah as having some of the best laws to curb distracted driving.
The document says Utah lags in other policies, though. For instance, the organization placed Utah's policies related to child passenger safety and teen driving in its red category. The state's policies related to occupant protection and automated speed enforcement fell in the yellow category in the report.
The organization suggests that Utah should pass laws that raise the minimum age for a learner's permit and driver's license, and require more nighttime and supervised driving provisions. It also recommends that Utah require children through the age of 12 to sit in the back seat of a vehicle and require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.
"We do see great benefit from practicing behind the wheel, from limiting the number of other passengers while you're in the intermediate phase, from not driving during dangerous times in the evening," Chase said when asked about teenage driving laws.
In all, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety lists 36 states with a yellow rating. Oregon (10) had the highest score, while Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington were the only other states to receive a green rating. The District of Columbia also received a green rating.
Montana and Wyoming (1) tied for the worst score, while Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota all received failing grades from the organization.
"While the road to eliminating crashes is long, the Roadmap to Safety acts as a compass to navigating it with purpose," said Mary Jagim, the co-chair of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety board, and former president of the Emergency Nurses Association. "By following this guide, we can prevent crashes and fatalities, and reduce the serious and often lifelong debilitating injuries that emergency nurses tragically see every day."