'Not acceptable': Utah traffic deaths surpassed 300 again in 2022

An officer investigates a car crash that involved five vehicles near 450 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City on Aug. 12, 2022. Utah transportation officials said 320 people were killed on Utah roads in 2022, the second most since 2003.

An officer investigates a car crash that involved five vehicles near 450 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City on Aug. 12, 2022. Utah transportation officials said 320 people were killed on Utah roads in 2022, the second most since 2003. (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

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TAYLORSVILLE — The number of people who died on Utah roads decreased by 3.6% in 2022 compared to the previous year; but, the state's traffic deaths remain the highest they have been in two decades, according to newly released traffic data.

In all, 320 people died in traffic-related incidents last year, according to statistics released by the Utah Department of Public Safety and Utah Department of Transportation Thursday. That's a slight decrease from 332 roadway fatalities in 2021. That said, it marks the second-consecutive year that deaths topped 300, a figure that previously hadn't been seen in the state since 2003.

There were 276 road fatalities in 2020 after the number of roadway deaths had fallen to 248 in 2019.

"One startling takeaway from this last year is how many of our most vulnerable road users' lives were lost," said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. "Everyone shares the road, whether they're driving, walking, or riding a bike or motorcycle, and all road users have an equal responsibility to watch out for one another."

Utah's road fatality rate — a statistic that measures deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the state — also dropped from 0.98 to 0.93, a 5.4% decrease. It was 0.91 in 2020, though, the number of vehicle miles traveled dropped significantly that year because of impacts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changing trends in 2022

While the number of speed-related and impaired driving fatalities each dropped in 2022, motorcycle, pedestrian, bicyclist and child deaths all rose from the previous year. The departments' report notes:

  • There were 87 speed-related traffic deaths in 2022, down from 109 in 2021.
  • There were 140 alcohol/drug-related traffic deaths, down from 157 the previous year.
  • The number of people who died because they weren't wearing a seat belt also declined in 2022, falling from 84 in 2021 to 73 in 2022.
  • Motorcycle fatalities rose to 50 in 2022, up from 40 in 2021.
  • 53 pedestrians were killed in traffic deaths, up from 45 in the previous year.
  • Bicycle-related traffic deaths rose from six in 2021 to 15 in 2022.
  • There were also 33 teen fatalities, as well as 12 other child fatalities in 2022, a small increase from the previous year. Combined, there were 40 teen and child roadway deaths in 2021.

Some of the state trends mirror national trends. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety notes that U.S. traffic deaths rose to a 16-year high of almost 43,000 people in 2021. Data from the first half of 2022 indicates that numbers were still rising across the country, the organization said last month.

But, of all the 2022 Utah trends, Gleason finds the rise of motorcycle, bicycle and pedestrian deaths to be the most alarming, calling the figures for all three the highest in "recent memory."

For instance, the state has averaged 5.75 bicycle deaths per year over the previous four years, prior to 15 in 2022. The number of motorcycle deaths is the highest over the past five years, as well; the number of child fatalities (under age 10) is double the previous year, and the highest in the past five years.

UDOT Director Carlos Braceras pledged in May 2022 that the agency would begin new initiatives and provide funding to improve street safety along the Wasatch Front after six people, including four children, were killed within two weeks of each other in separate pedestrian and bicycle-related crashes. Several were caused by suspected impaired or speeding drivers.

"It's not acceptable," Gleason said, of the high figures. "It's something that we need to work (on) to improve, and it's about watching out for each other."

Finding ways to make roads safer

UDOT no longer views effective vehicle travel as the main indicator of success, Gleason adds. Instead, agency officials want to focus on multiple modes of transportation — and safety factors into that.

They said Thursday that UDOT spends $4 million every year on projects "specifically designed to improve safety and make access easier for these vulnerable users," such as bicyclists and pedestrians. The state's transportation commission also approved 44 different projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety over the past year, such as new walking and biking trails, bridges and bike lanes.

They add that they believe Gov. Spencer Cox's proposed statewide trails network has the potential to provide "a safe and sustainable transportation option" for pedestrians and bicyclists as the system is pieced together. The governor's proposed 2024 fiscal year budget calls for $100 million to be set aside to get the project rolling though, it's up to the Utah Legislature to allocate the money.

"We don't measure success any longer on how many vehicles we can move," Gleason said. "It's about moving people, and we have to have that complete picture — that complete outlook on the transportation system to be successful and to get people where they're going safely."

The Legislature will also mull new measures related to road safety when the next session begins on Jan. 17. For instance, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said in September that she intends to file a bill related to distracted driving during the 2023 session.

Improvements may come down to factors beyond new projects and laws, though. Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Cameron Roden said drivers should consider making New Year's resolutions to drive safer.

"Resolutions focus on making small changes over a long period of time to form habits and improve quality of life," he said Thursday. "Those habits are formed by starting with the fundamentals."

What are the basics he recommends?

  • Always buckle up — and wear a seat belt properly — no matter the driving distance or any other factors.
  • Watch your speed and abide by the speed limit no matter the driving conditions. Always slow down when roads are wet or icy.
  • Use your blinker when you change lanes.
  • Review all the rules of the road.

Roden adds that parents teach their children "safe pedestrian habits," such as wearing reflective gear and choosing a safe route to school. At the same time, he says drivers should make a "special effort" to come to complete stops and pay attention while at intersections.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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