Reports from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) show a spike in traffic fatalities in the last two months, an increase keenly felt of late throughout Kane and northern Coconino counties. The Southern Utah News has a report in the works focusing on the traffic trends and statistics in these local areas - the following is a preliminary to that report, consisting of observations and recommendations from agencies like UDOT and UHP.
According to a UDOT report, tourist communities that stayed mostly open and in operation during COVID saw an increase in visitation in the last two years - this will not be news to most locals. The recent statement however, added some insight into why this trend may contribute to the current day spike in fatal crashes; “During COVID, most travel was done by ‘professional travelers,’ meaning people familiar and experienced with travel in unfamiliar areas. Southern Utah saw a lot of tourists and vacationers, causing the numbers to swell. Now, those numbers are leveling off a little, but as COVID regulations dial back and local businesses start getting their momentum back, that means a lot of tourists not from around here sharing the road with more big trucks and commercial vehicles.”
Per the traffic reports, the increase in the number of these incidents that in- volve a large semi-truck is observable. There is some correlation vs. causation bias - incidents involving a large vehicle like semitruck tend to be reported more often due to the drama and typically increased damage - but the statistics show that many traffic incidents of late have been caused or exacerbated by a large commercial vehicle. “It’s kind of in the nature of navigating around semis,” said a public correspondent within the Utah Highway Patrol. “They tend to be slower on curves and slopes, which means more people attempting to pass in these high-risk areas. Then they’re harder to pass neatly.”
UHP advised extra caution around large commercial vehicles, especially on roadways with little visibility of the upcoming road. Attempting to pass on curves and in low-visibility conditions is always a risk, especially when passing a long vehicle like a truck with a trailer. “Traffic in small towns is changing as development increases,” says one UHP contact. “Roads are dealing with more trucks, denser traffic at different times … sometimes people will be a little overconfident in roads they’ve been driving for years, only to be surprised when things change so dramatically.”
Another trend affecting Utah right now is a sudden increase in road improvement projects. Recent legislation has provided boosts in roads budgets around the state, and local legislatures are starting projects to make use of the new funding. This means more construction, more large industrial and commercial vehicles on the road and changing road conditions. Kane County and local municipalities like Kanab City are beneficiaries of this process - not as beneficiary as local leadership may have liked, as the disbursements are less than hoped for an d came bundled with an obligatory tax increase - and as a result, county and city roads are being affected by this same trend. This indicates an overall improvement in road conditions in the area, yes, but in the meantime calls for additional caution while driving as construction results in construction workers and vehicles on roads more frequently.
Per UDOT and the UHP, some best practices to stay safe while driving include:
Wear your seatbelt. Recent crashes in the Kane County area were made dramatically more harmful by individuals in the vehicle not wearing their seatbelt - not only to themselves, but in major crashes unsecured individuals become projectiles that can and have caused fatal harm to their fellow passengers.
Do not drive impaired. In addition to not driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, this also means do not drive while drowsy or while distracted from within the vehicle, such as by cell phones, radios or passenger interference.
Drive defensively, even on familiar roads. Traffic patterns are changing in places like Kanab and the Valley, at a rate and in ways that they have not changed before. Do not assume that a road you have driven many times before will behave today in the same way it did yesterday - keep your eyes on the road and do not assume other drivers will be doing the same.
Drive especially carefully in inclement weather. As we go into the winter season, remember that it can take significantly longer to brake to a stop on slick roads, and heavier vehicles will have a harder time maneuvering. Check your tires before trips and make sure you have good tread.
Utah’s roadways are fairly safe relative to other states in the U.S., and traffic authorities hope for this trend to continue, hearkening back to Utah’s “Zero- Fatalities” initiative. The numbers show this year has been more dangerous on the roads, but officials say the numbers have potential to level out as people adjust their driving habits. Many of these variables can be compensated for as drivers learn to expect them.