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Utah Highway Patrol: 20 deaths so far this year in road rage crashes

Sep 28, 2023, 10:50 PM | Updated: Sep 29, 2023, 5:41 am

SALT LAKE CITY – So far this year, 20 people have been killed due to road rage-related crashes on Utah’s roadways, according to new data released by the Utah Department of Public Safety.

“They escalate,” Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Brian Peterson said about road rage incidents. “I mean, people are pulling guns on people. They’re throwing drinks at other cars. They’re throwing food. They get frustrated and they’re taking it out on other people, which isn’t right.”

During 2023 there have already been 576 crashes related to aggressive driving and road rage.

Last year, the Highway Patrol calculated 736 total road rage crashes and 28 total fatalities. In 2021, Utah saw 27 deaths and 25 deaths in 2020.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, fatalities related to road rage were lower, totaling 12 in 2017, 15 deaths in 2018 and eight in 2019.

Last year, Utah led the nation with the most confrontational drivers, a Forbes Advisor report found.

This year, the Beehive State is doing better in that report—now ranked 21st. But still, more than 15% of Utah drivers reported that another driver had exited their vehicle to yell or fight with them.

“Throughout the whole state, we’re seeing it everywhere: increased road rage,” Peterson said. “It is a big issue that we need to combat.”

UHP also tracks incidents reported to its six dispatch communication centers.

“Unfortunately, since the pandemic, we’ve seen spikes in all kinds of areas in a negative direction,” said UHP Col. Michael Rapich.

So far this year, the 911 dispatch centers have logged 138 reports of brandishing, 557 reports of road rage, 14,735 reports of reckless drivers and 246 reports of shots fired.

“We see behavior in the interaction while people are driving a vehicle that are absolutely unacceptable when driving a vehicle but they would be incredibly unacceptable in any other environment,” Rapich said. “If someone was walking slowly in front of you at a movie theater you wouldn’t knock them down and threaten to beat them up.”

UHP instructs victims of road rage to not engage, retaliate or escalate the situation. The patrol said it’s best to call 911 and get the license plate number if you can safely do so.

If you’re being followed, Peterson had this advice: “Don’t go home. Don’t let them follow you to your location but go to a police station.”

Utah lawmakers are looking at changing laws in order to tackle the growing road rage problem.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Rep. Paul Cutler, R-Centerville. “We’ve got to have people take responsibility for their actions.”

Cutler has worked over the summer with police and prosecutors to draft legislation to address raging drivers.

“Our overall goal here is to make Utah’s highways safer,” he said.

Cutler said Utah needs a clear definition of road rage so that it can be better tracked and punished.

“We are considering enhanced penalties for road rage,” he added.

Rapich said the highway patrol would welcome a common definition of road rage, saying it would also help educate the public about the problem.

“It would help to actually statutorily define what we’re talking about when we’re saying aggressive driving and/or road rage and should we define them separately?” Rapich said.

It’s early in the process of creating the new legislation, in the meantime Cutler and law enforcement are begging Utah drivers to ratchet down the tension.

“Somebody else may be having a bad day,” Cutler said. “Give them a break. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume positive intent and let’s be safer on the roads.”

“Just take a deep breath and realize that it probably was not intentional,” Peterson said. “Just treat everybody like they’re your best friend and everyone will get home safely.”

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Utah Highway Patrol: 20 deaths so far this year in road rage crashes