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UDOT says Utah road fatalities in the summer are way up from last year
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UDOT says Utah road fatalities in the summer are way up from last year

(Traffic moving through South Salt Lake. Credit: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, file, Jan. 17, 2019)

SALT LAKE COUNTY – The “100 Deadliest Days of Summer” are proving to be much deadlier this year than last.  Officials with UDOT say the number of Utah road fatalities has gone up, even though traffic has gone down. 

During the summer of 2019, there were only 47 deaths on Utah’s roads between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day.  This year, there have already been 71 road fatalities in Utah, and we have a few weeks left in the season.  Officials say that averages almost one fatality every day.

“Looking at last summer compared to this summer, we’re up dramatically,” says UDOT Spokesman John Gleason.

However, these numbers don’t provide us with complete context.  Gleason says 2019 had an abnormally low number of road fatalities, which is why they were hoping the number would be lower than normal again for 2020.  This year’s numbers seem to be on par with what we normally see during the summer, but Gleason says last year’s data shows drivers can be safer on the roadways.

He says, “If we can go ten days without a fatality, then why can’t we go 20 days?  Why can’t we go the entire summer?  Why can’t we go the entire year?”

Researchers can’t confirm why the death rates have gone up, but Gleason says they know average speeds on the freeways went up when COVID-19 forced schools and businesses to close.  Gleason says when there were more cars on the roads, people didn’t have as many chances to speed.

“Last year, there are charts that show 30 percent of the time you could not excess [SIC] 60 miles an hour on the freeway because of the congestion levels,” he says.

Analysts say Utah’s traffic levels are roughly 90 percent of what they used to be before the outbreak, but even though traffic is closer to “normal,” COVID-19 may have permanently changed traffic patterns in this state.

Gleason says, “People are traveling at different times, so we’re not seeing the morning and evening commutes as full as they used to be.”