A look at impaired driving in Utah: fatalities skyrocketing since 2019

Jul 1, 2022, 11:40 AM | Updated: 3:57 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — 2022 is on pace to be the deadliest year on record for impaired driving in Utah. Already this year there have been 53 deaths because of impaired driving, coming off a record year in 2021 of 158 people killed.

“Right now, there seems to be a spike in a lot of dangerous statistics. One of those is wrong way drivers, we had somebody killed this morning with somebody that didn’t have their lights on,” said Corporal Brock Ernsten, Utah Highway Patrol.

Cpl. Ernsten is a member of UHP’s DUI squad, a group of specialized troopers who focus on stopping impaired drivers on Utah’s roads. KSL TV was given special access to ride-along with Cpl. Ernsten to see firsthand what the DUI squad is facing on the roads every night, and on one Saturday night in June Cpl. Ernsten was called to a multi-vehicle crash on I-15 that turned into a DUI investigation, a wrong-way driver crash, and he also made a DUI arrest.

Nights like this, with multiple DUI investigations is sadly becoming typical for the DUI squad.

“We’ll have a lot of impaired drivers that will be just a single vehicle involved and they’ll crash, and side swipe a wall or side swipe another vehicle and there aren’t injuries, but when there are injuries and especially children are involved and injured that is very difficult.”

Since 2019, impaired driving fatalities have skyrocketed.

Cpl. Says he’s seeing drivers push the limit with drugs and alcohol.

“I’ve noticed a lot of lately that it’s both, people have consumed alcohol and some sort of drug as well. I would say a high percentage of the impaired drivers lately have had a combination.”

When it comes to spotting impaired drivers, Cpl. Ernst says it’s the little things, like drifting, or aggressive driving that tip him off.

“If I see someone driving very aggressively, especially certain times of nights and days if I see somebody speeding, it seems the faster they’re going there is an increased likelihood or probability that they’re impaired if they’re going fast or aggressive. But you can also have the opposite where they’re really driving slowly and not stopping in time or maybe they forgot to turn their lights on. Which anybody can forget to turn their headlights on but sometimes that can be an indicator that somebody is not quite mentally functioning.”

Cpl. Ernsten is pleading with Utah drivers to do better, to think ahead and put away the keys before they ever take that first drink.

“You have taxis, Uber, Lift, there are just so many options.”

UHP is in the process of adding more troopers to its DUI squad. They’ve also created a wrong-way task force to figure out the best way to stop those drivers from putting others at risk. In the meantime, Cpl. Ernsten and the DUI squad will continue to do what they can to make sure everyone gets home safe.

“We all have friends and family driving on the roads, and we want our friends and family to be safe just like everyone else does.”

KSL 5 TV Live

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A look at impaired driving in Utah: fatalities skyrocketing since 2019