UHP: Decrease in traffic not yielding fewer collisions
Lt. Greg Holley, of Utah Highway Patrol, radios in the license plate of a vehicle pulled over on southbound I-15 for speeding during a period of increased speed enforcement on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019.
Evan Cobb, Daily Herald
Despite a significant decrease in the amount of traffic on Utah’s roadways, there has not been a decrease in the number of traffic accidents occurring, according to Utah Highway Patrol and other law enforcement authorities statewide.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street said traffic has decreased by 30%-50% since Gov. Gary Herbert announced the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order in March.
With the decline, Street said officials expected to see a decrease in the number of collisions and citations, as well, but that was not the case. In fact, troopers are seeing higher speeds and a similar number of fatal accidents despite limited traffic.
“Fatal crashes should be down with the decline in traffic on our roads, but they’re not,” he said in a statement.
Higher speeds, aggressive drivers and reckless driving have all been cited as significant causes for the higher-than-expected number of collisions and fatalities on Utah roadways since the beginning of the pandemic.
On the Utah Highway Patrol Twitter account, troopers have been sharing several instances of excessive speed, including a driver caught going 91 mph in a stretch of roadway with a speed limit of 75 mph in Santaquin.
In Davis County, troopers pulled over and cited a driver traveling over 100 mph in a 60 mph construction zone on Tuesday.
On April 20, a Saratoga Springs man, 25-year-old Lance Budge, was killed in a vehicle collision on State Road 201 near Bangerter Highway. Budge’s vehicle was struck from behind after another vehicle was unable to stop in time and rear-ended a stopped pickup truck on the roadway.
Only a week earlier, Idaho resident 20-year-old Kelton Kluvers died in a single-vehicle collision while traveling south on Interstate 15. Utah Highway Patrol stated speed and distraction were assumed to be the two causes of the accident. Kluvers was ejected from the vehicle and he was not wearing his seat belt.
Last year by this time, Street said Utah Highway Patrol troopers responded to 64 fatal crashes. This year, even with significantly less traffic on the roads, troopers have responded to 63 fatal collisions.
Since Tuesday, Utah Highway Patrol has responded to two fatal collisions.
From 2014-2018, Utah County had the second highest number of fatal accidents in the state, and speed was determined to be the cause of traffic crash deaths in 40% of Utah’s fatal collisions, according to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Now, the state of Utah is preparing to reopen several nonessential businesses on Friday, and the Utah Highway Patrol is expecting an increase in the number of drivers on the road.
“We are excited to take a small step back to normalcy with the state’s move from red to orange,” Street said.
Even with more vehicles on the road, high speeds and reckless or distracted driving remain the most significant causes for fatal and non-fatal traffic collisions. Troopers are cracking down on drivers and have alluded in social media posts that warnings will be few and far between.
To prepare for the transition and expected increased presence, troopers have been encouraged to wear masks and have been advised to keep masks on during traffic stops.
He said personal protection equipment also has been issued to troopers for higher-risk situations that they might find themselves in during enforcement or when reporting to service calls.
The Utah Highway Patrol encourages drivers to maintain a speed at or below the posted speed limit and ensure there is at least two seconds of following distance between vehicles. Additionally, officials are asking drivers to use their seat belts.