ROAD TO ZERO

Utah Among Deadliest States For Teen Drivers, Report Says

Oct 31, 2019, 8:19 PM | Updated: 9:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah is the ninth-most dangerous state for teen drivers, according to a new report with national data that looked at crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 20.

A Utah mother, who lost her 20-year-old son in a crash more than two years ago Thursday, reminded teens no one is invincible.

“Bobby was just a happy, go-lucky kid. Just amazing, ” said Sarah Tupoumalohi, whose son, Bobby, died in a crash in Taylorsville in June 2017.

“He felt like he was invincible, which I think a lot of teenagers feel like they’re invincible,” said Tupoumalohi, adding that it’s a common mindset for young people, right about the time they’re allowed to drive. “They know what they’re doing, of course, so they have control of what’s happening. Or, that’s what they think.”

That day, their whole family was celebrating the graduation of a cousin. But, Bobby was late for the party.
 “I was texting him, Bobby, where are you? Why aren’t you here?” Tupoumalohi said.

But she never got a response and hardly thought that any trouble was brewing.

“We saw on the news that there was a fatality, on 5400 South, and I said guys don’t go down 5400 South,” she said.

They later found out Bobby died in that crash. He was speeding and an oncoming motorist tried to turn in front of him, but ran into his car. The force of the collision shot Bobby’s car into a telephone pole.

“It turned him into a rocket, and he flew into that light pole,” she said.

His death turned his family upside down.

“Everybody who knew Bobby was affected by this,” Tupoumalohi said.

His two brothers and sisters, parents and their entire extended family were filled with grief.

Tupoumalohi said his siblings still struggle with his death, as she does.

“I still think about him every day,” she said. “There are reasons why parents worry and why parents teach you certain things.”

Because they won’t always be in the passenger seat. And the teen, still getting driving experience, won’t always be focused on driving.

“You may be just graduated high school, and just going off and spending a lot more time with friends you need to take that responsibility,” said John Gleason, a Zero Fatalities advocate and UDOT spokesperson. “You don’t have the experience, but you need to take every step possible to make sure that you’re not one of these fatalities.”

Bobby was wearing his seatbelt, but his mother said he was also speeding. Those two factors show up in a majority of Utah teen fatal crashes.

When you look at Utah fatality statistics, it’s clear that buckling up could save dozens of teenage lives in Utah each year.

Two years ago, 27 teens died on Utah roads. Over half of them were not buckled in or were not wearing their seatbelt properly.

The year before, 34 teens died on Utah roads. Nearly 60% of those teens were not buckled in. Over the past decade, more than half the teens killed on Utah roads were not buckled in.

Safety advocates cited an even sharper rise in fatalities for young drivers after leaving the restrictions of the graduated driver’s license in Utah. The data suggested the graduated driver’s license restrictions help reduce fatal crashes among our teens in the first few years they are learning to drive.

“When you’re 17, 18, 19 years old, your mom and dad aren’t necessarily there anymore giving you the constant reminders,” Gleason said. “They’re just out of the house. They don’t have supervision from mom and dad anymore, and they may not be buckling up. That’s what we’re seeing, and that’s what we’re trying to stop.”

Tupoumalohi agreed. She feels the anguish of losing her son every day and implores other parents to share those safety messages with their children while they’re learning to drive.

“Please, be cautious, wear your seatbelt, slow down, don’t be in such a big hurry,” she said, adding that it’s critical to put down the phone and any other distractions. “That one second that your eyes are off the road could mean your life.”

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Utah Among Deadliest States For Teen Drivers, Report Says