The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) released some goods news this week. The number of fatalities on the state's highways in 2012 was the lowest it has been since 1959. Last year 215 people were killed in automobile-related accidents statewide; of those, eight occurred in Summit County. In 2011, when 243 travelers were killed statewide, nine died in our county.
Though everyone would like to see that number reduced even farther, there are lots of agencies to thank for the progress that has been made so far, especially considering there are so many more cars on the road today.
Over the last several years UDOT has made Summit County commuters' trips to Salt Lake City much safer by beefing up the median barriers and adding passing lanes. The department has also used technology to provide travelers with better information about road conditions. For instance, during this week's snowstorm, drivers could log on to www.utahcommuterlink .com to view real-time traffic cameras before deciding whether to drive over Parley's Summit.
The Utah Highway Patrol has made a concerted effort to step up DUI enforcement, especially during holidays. The UHP have been proactive about publicizing those dragnets in the hopes of deterring drunk drivers instead of having to arrest them. That, along with other awareness campaigns, has, no doubt, prevented additional fatal accidents.
And, of course, we would be remiss if we did not thank the road crews who spend their summers repairing the roads and their winters plowing them. Their work is vital to the safety of our visitors who keep Summit County's snow-driven economy moving.
There has been progress on other fronts too. Car manufacturers have added important safety features. Chief among them -- airbags and seatbelts. Unfortunately according to UDOT, 30 percent of last year's fatalities might have been prevented if the people involved had been using their seatbelts.
The only other statistic marring the report is the increase in fatalities caused by distracted driving. In 2011, 15 traffic fatalities were attributed to drivers who were texting, talking on their cell phones or otherwise distracted. That number increased to 20 in 2012.
And that is one statistic UDOT can't really control. The only way to decrease accidents and deaths due to distracted driving is to take individual responsibility. There have been some efforts to teach teens about the dangers of using their phones, iPods and other devices while driving, but teens aren't the only culprits.
While some states have enacted tough laws restricting cell-phone use while driving, Utahns have been reluctant to go that route. In the meantime, we'll let the statistics speak for themselves. Distracted driving is a problem on our roadways and it is getting worse.