BOUNTIFUL — Davis County seems to be bucking the positive trend of fewer Utah traffic fatalities — more people died on roads here in 2012 than the year before.
Statistics released last week in the Utah Department of Transportation’s Zero Fatalities report show that in 2004, Davis County had nine traffic fatalities.
By 2012, that number had reached 15. It came after a jump in 2007 to 18 deaths and a drop in 2010 to just nine. State numbers show that in 2000, there were 373 traffic fatalities, but by 2012 that number had dropped to 215.
The Davis County numbers may be disheartening, but they also may be deceiving, police said.
“Davis County is one of the fastest growing counties,” said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Ed Machaud. “You can’t look at the number of fatalities and say ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going the wrong way,’”
He prefers to compares the number of crashes to the number of miles traveled, like statisticians do.
With that viewpoint, Davis County numbers aren’t that far out of line, Machaud said.
The Utah Highway Patrol sees about three deaths per year on the interstate in Davis County. Other traffic fatalities occur in cities and on county roads, Machaud said.
Looking at the millions of miles traveled, traffic fatalities in Davis County can be attributed to the increasing population density, “not to any wave of bad driving,” Machaud said.
The Zero Fatalities campaign was launched in 2006 as a multi-agency endeavor to reduce fatalities on the state’s highways.
Participating agencies include the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Highway Patrol, UDOT’s Motor Carrier Division, Utah Highway Safety Office, Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Administration.
The annual report also breaks down numbers by fatality type, holiday weekend fatalities, road conditions, day and nighttime fatalities, location of fatalities and more.
Those on the front lines of investigating traffic fatalities say aggressive driving, including speeding and lack of seat belt usage remain the two biggest contributing factors in traffic fatalities.
“Of the 215 fatalities in 2012, 67 were caused by being improperly restrained,” said UHP spokesman Cpl. Todd Johnson. “If people buckled up, it would increase their chance of survival.”
Except in those cases, numbers have dropped, Johnson said.
That includes distracted driving and driving under the influence, according to the Zero Fatalities website, ut.zerofatalities.com.
Surprisingly, most fatalities happened on dry roads, Johnson said.
He believes educational programs such as Zero Fatalities have significantly contributed to the decline in deaths due to driving under the influence.
Another factor that has contributed to the overall decline in fatalities is sustained enforcement of driving laws.
“It used to be that we (the Utah Highway Patrol) would focus on major holidays” said UHP Sgt. Ted Tingey. “Now we focus on every holiday, from Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day to Thanksgiving.”
It is possible to stop traffic deaths in Utah, Johnson said.
“Zero fatalities is realistic in my family and every other family, and if businesses in their fleets set that goal it’s realistic there too,” he said.
You can find the full breakdown of traffic fatalities numbers around Utah at ut.zerofatalities.com/statistics_utah.php.