Utah hits record number of bicyclists dying after being hit by vehicles this year

Oct 13, 2022, 9:29 AM | Updated: Nov 19, 2022, 12:11 am

SALT LAKE CITY — With two months left in 2022, Utah has already seen a 30-plus-year record in the number of bicyclists dying after being hit by vehicles.

Fifteen bicyclists have died on roads across the Beehive State in bike vs. car fatalities this year, including three children. The last time that number reached as high as 10 was 2006, according to statistics from the Utah Department of Transportation.

Last year, six bicyclists were killed in crashes. In 2020, eight died, data shows.

And no area of the state seems to be immune from bicycle fatalities. Though, data show the bulk have occurred in Salt Lake County, which is also the most populous county in Utah.

Why are the numbers increasing?

South Jordan police spokesman Eric Anderson said he believes that community growth comes with people using more “diversified” forms of transportation.

“There’s a lot of people out cycling, especially here in Daybreak,” he said.

John Gleason, spokesman at the Utah Department of Transportation, said the agency is researching reasons behind the increase in bicycle deaths.

“I know we definitely saw an uptick in the number of people that were getting out and riding their bicycles during the pandemic, there were more people that were getting out and biking or walking, and you could see that with the bicycle sales,” Gleason said.

The prevalence — or lack — of sidewalks, park strips and bicycle paths clearly marked within a roadway also plays a part in crashes between bikes and cars, Anderson noted.

But the presence of space for bikes doesn’t always prevent crashes.

On July 6, 9-year-old Brayden Long and his friend, also 9, were riding an electronic bicycle in South Jordan, at 11400 South and 2200 West, when they were hit by an SUV. Brayden was taken to a hospital, where he died the next day, and his friend sustained serious injuries.

Anderson said the area where the boys were riding does have a bicycle path or shoulder. The boy who survived was later released from the hospital, but he likely faces a long recovery due to the extent of his injuries. The crash shook the community, and it “won’t be forgotten,” Anderson said.

“We’re seeing a lot of inattentive driving behaviors — people aren’t paying attention, obviously. I don’t know if you can attribute that to … you’re having a conversation with someone who’s in the backseat (or) you’re talking to someone on the phone. Even though it’s through your car, you’re not paying 100% to the roadway,” Anderson said.

Police also notice drivers often using their cellphones, or simply “daydreaming.”

“There’s a myriad of factors that could contribute to someone who doesn’t see someone entering a pedestrian walkway or a bicycle path,” Anderson said.

A common type of crash involving cars and cyclists or pedestrians is a right-turn crash, which often occurs when a driver is watching traffic to their left while waiting to turn right at an intersection and forgets to look to their right side to see if someone is trying to cross the road.

Anderson also said he’s “disappointed” that the Legislature eliminated required vehicle safety inspections in 2018, meaning sometimes cars have issues drivers aren’t aware of, such as brake lights or signal lights being out, or brakes that need to be replaced.

Crash prevention

Anderson urges drivers to eliminate distractions, including eating or putting on makeup, and to clear items in their car that might block their view.

“And it’s just all those things — we’re all in a rush, we’ve all got places to go, and if you can get from point A to point B without injuring somebody, and you were paying attention the entire time, that’s the ideal thing,” he said.

Gleason noted that drivers need to “train ourselves” to spot pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycles.

Drivers’ eyes are “trained to look for trucks or other cars, passenger vehicles, and sometimes you can be just not really looking for those walkers or bikers, and we need to really do a better job of expecting to see bicyclists and walkers, pedestrians, in those areas that maybe you’re not thinking about,” Gleason added.

UDOT is also focusing on creating walking and biking trails and improving access for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to Gleason, and more people are making use of those opportunities.

“Our focus has really changed over the last several years to moving people; it’s not focused on moving vehicles. It’s getting people to where they’re going safely, and providing those opportunities for bicyclists and pedestrians to go where they’d like to go safely,” Gleason said.

“And that’s a great thing, but it’s also a good reminder that it’s a shared responsibility. As drivers, we need to watch out for those pedestrians and bicyclists and motorcyclists, because they’re out there. They’re going to be out there,” he said.

Bicycle riders and pedestrians also need to do their part to watch for hazards. A good rule of thumb is to make eye contact with drivers of cars approaching an intersection to make sure they saw you, Anderson said.

As drivers, we need to watch out for those pedestrians and bicyclists and motorcyclists, because they’re out there. — John Gleason, UDOT

Gleason urges anyone on bikes or walking to not wear earphones that mute the sounds of traffic, and to stay focused on the road.

October tends to be one of the most deadly times of year for auto-pedestrian crashes, Gleason said, as people try to enjoy the last of Utah’s warm weather before winter sets in. This year, the state has seen 41 auto-pedestrian deaths, among the highest numbers over the past several years. Last year, Utah confirmed 45 deaths caused by vehicle crashes with pedestrians.

“It is very high, and it’s easy to talk about numbers and to somewhat fixate on the number of fatalities, but when you think about each one of these cases, I mean, is a person that isn’t going to get home to their family. And so 41 people, to lose 41 people on our roads as pedestrians, it’s a staggering number and it’s just heartbreaking for these families,” Gleason said.

Here are some of the reported bicycle fatalities that happened this year:

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Utah hits record number of bicyclists dying after being hit by vehicles this year