By SHEILA WANG • Standard-Examiner staff
Speed remained the leading contributing factor in traffic deaths in Utah in 2017, accounting for 41 percent of deaths, according to a preliminary crash report by the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Speed killed 111 people on Utah roads last year, up by six compared to 2016.
More than 1/3 of last year’s 246 fatal crashes involved either exceeding the speed limit or traveling too fast for conditions.
The number of all crashes related to speed fluctuated over the past decade but was generally in decline, as the line chart above indicates. And so was the number of fatal crashes involving speed.
In 2016, more than 11,000 crashes were related to speed across the state.
The yellow bar chart above shows fatal crashes were most likely to occur in speed zone with a speed limit between 50-55 mph. The second most dangerous speed zone was 60-65 mph. When it comes to travel speed, generally the faster the driver travels, the higher the risk of being killed or killing someone else on the road.
A great number of fatal crashes occurred when drivers were traveling at 60-69 mph, as almost 1/3 of fatal crashes fell into this group in 2016.
The second most dangerous speed was 70-79 mph.
“Speed is one of the biggest factors in road crashes,” said Russ Rader with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “It consistently accounts for 1/3 of all crash deaths in the country.”
He attributed part of the problem to raising speed limits. Since Utah started to allow for speed limits higher than 75 mph on rural interstates in 2008, the state has gradually raised the speed limits on various stretches of highways to 80 mph.
Last February, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) raised speed limits on five more sections of Interstate 15 to 80 mph. Two of the sections were originally set at a speed limit of 65 mph, according to a dataset provided by UDOT.
These newly-added high speed zones have joined 44 other stretches of Utah highways to allow drivers to travel at a maximum speed of 80 mph.
As a result, Utahns now have more than 1,200 miles of highway with 80 mph speed limits.
UDOT Public Information Officer John Gleason said state analyses had not found any increase in road crashes related to increased speed limits.
However, a recent study examining the effects of speed limit changes in Utah found that higher speed limits result in higher travel speeds and lead to more frequent and deadly crashes. The IIHS published the study in its status report in 2016.
It countered the claim that higher limits will reduce speed change, which would eventually prevent road crashes. The study found the drivers did not tend to travel at a similar speed under the new 80 mph speed limit in Utah.
Many states have started raising speed limits on highways since the National Highway System Designation Act allowed the states to set their own limits in 1995.
Currently, six other states also have a maximum speed limit of 80 mph including Nevada, Montana, and Texas, which also allows a maximum of 85 mph on some interstate segments.
A U.S. map below shows the speed limits across the nation. Hover or click on any state to get details.
Another IIHS study shows that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the U.S.
In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal airbags that year.