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After a deadly year for pedestrians, UDOT wants drivers to ‘lay off the aggression’

A pedestrian walks past a crosswalk button in Salt Lake City, Feb. 14, 2022.
Brian Albers
A pedestrian walks past a crosswalk button in Salt Lake City, Feb. 14, 2022.

The number of pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists killed in traffic-related accidents on Utah roads was up in 2022, according to preliminary data from the Utah Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety.

The numbers are among the highest seen in Utah in years; 53 pedestrians were killed (eight more than the year before), 50 motorcyclists killed (10 more than the year before) and 15 bicyclists killed (9 more than the year before).

“I think the most concerning thing that we saw on our roads [in 2022] is the increase in fatalities for those people that are most vulnerable: the pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists,” said UDOT spokesperson John Gleason. “Those [are] folks that don’t have the same protections that the people riding in cars or trucks have.”

While the overall number of traffic fatalities in Utah decreased slightly in 2022 compared to 2021, Gleason said that is not a big victory considering 2021 was the deadliest year on Utah’s roads in almost two decades. UDOT reported 332 deaths in 2021 and 320 in 2022.

Another shocking trend was the number of children that died in accidents last year, Gleason said. The number of kids under nine doubled from six in 2021 to 12 in 2022.

Gleason said UDOT does not have all the answers as to why there were more deaths among these groups in 2022, but said UDOT has noticed an increase in risky driving behaviors. This includes speeding, aggressive driving, texting while driving and drivers getting behind the wheel when they’re intoxicated.

To reduce fatalities, Gleason said UDOT spends $4 million each year on safety projects focused on keeping pedestrians and bicyclists safe. UDOT is renewing its plea to Utahns, asking them to drive as safely as possible by slowing down, reviewing the rules of the road and watching out for pedestrians.

Gleason noted that about 76% of those who died in 2022 were men.

“I don’t remember a time where we saw such a difference in the number of men compared to women that were killed and I think it does speak to aggressive driving,” he said. “I’m talking to guys like me. We’ve got to lay off the aggression. We’ve got to slow down.”

Taylor Anderson is a co-founder and board member of Sweet Streets, a Salt Lake City group that advocates for “people-first streets and public spaces.” Anderson said the number of traffic deaths last year is devastating and unacceptable. He said he’s still waiting for a concrete plan from the state and cities to decrease the number of deaths on streets they own.

“You need to change the design of the road or else you can expect people to continue driving fast,” Anderson said. “I expect these numbers to stay high and to keep climbing until that change happens.”

On UDOT’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan website it says “Human error is a contributing factor in 94% of crashes.” Anderson said state and city agencies need to take more responsibility for road safety instead of blaming it on individual drivers and human error.

“There are a million different decisions that go into creating the roads and highways that UDOT is responsible for. They’re creating dangerous conditions and the high numbers of traffic violence are a result of that,” Anderson said. “Drivers are operating in the playing field that UDOT has created.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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