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Crashes, Fatalities Up Despite Fewer Cars On Utah Roads In 2020

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – State officials said they’ve seen an increase in fatal crashes despite fewer drivers on Utah’s roads during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the country, highway officials said people drove fewer miles last year than they have in 20 years, but traffic fatalities were up 8% — and the trend is continuing.

Already in 2021, 47 people have died on Utah roads.

“Today we’re calling on all Utahns to stop justifying bad behaviors and to start making just one small change to save lives,” said Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation executive director.

According to UDOT, there were 276 fatalities in 2020. That’s an increase of 11%, even though the number of cars on the roads decreased by 13%.

“Our 100 mph citations last year in 2020 were up 45% over the previous two years. Wrong-way crashes, meaning wrong-way drivers, were up 15%. DUI arrests — nearly a 10% increase,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson.

Anderson said another surprising statistic is that drivers refusing to stop for troopers, often leading to high-speed pursuits, are up 50%.

(Road To Zero)

Former Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Ron Ellsworth knows what it’s like to lose a loved one. Two of his children died in separate car crashes.

“This has had quite an impact on our family,” said Ellsworth.

It was November 2016 when Ellsworth lost his son.

“He was out there in traffic trying to keep people safe,” he said.

Eric Ellsworth, 32, was a UHP trooper. He was trying to stop traffic from hitting a sagging power line when he was hit and killed.

“While he was there he stopped a semi-truck as it was approaching the power line, and as he was there in the road he was struck by a vehicle coming the other way,” said Ron Ellsworth.

Then just a few months ago, in October, Ellsworth lost his daughter as well. Amy Davis was a wife and mother of two little boys. She ran a stop sign, hitting a gravel truck.

“We’re not sure what caused my daughter to drive through the stop sign. It could’ve been a medical problem, could’ve been she was sleepy, or drowsy, distracted,” said Ellsworth.

Highway officials are asking for each Utahn to make a small change, like not sending that text or not pushing the speed limit. They hope it will prevent more people from dying in car crashes this year.

“Think about what you can do. Drive focused, drive calm, drive alert, drive sober and please, always wear your seatbelts,” said Braceras.

Ellsworth said he thinks about his son and his daughter every day, and he couldn’t agree more.

“People just need to remember that when they’re driving a car, that’s their prime responsibility is safety on the road,” he said.

Ellsworth was actually a UHP trooper himself and worked the roads for almost 30 years.

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