Accidents on Utah roads claimed 215 lives in 2012 the lowest since 1959.
"That's pretty significant when you consider what's happened in the 53 years since then with the population [which has tripled], the number of miles traveled and the number of cars on the road," said Robert Hull, director of traffic and safety for the Utah Department of Transportation.
Those 215 fatalities were a 12 percent drop from 2011 when 243 died and a 42 percent drop since 2000 when 373 people died.
Hull says that progress is welcome, but not good enough for a state that has a goal of zero fatalities. He also notes that too many of the deaths last year were easily preventable.
"About 30 percent of the fatalities were associated with not using seat belts," Hull said. He adds that national studies estimate about half of such victims could have survived if they had been property restrained.
"That's a significant number of individuals who could be alive today if they had done that simple act of buckling up," Hull said. "So our numbers could be even lower by increasing seat-belt usage."
The state's Zero Fatalities campaign included TV and radio ads all year urging people to wear seat belts. Still, the state had 67 people who died because of improper restraint, down from 75 the previous year. But, "Getting people to focus in on it has helped those numbers come down," Hull said.
Fatalities increased last year in only one major accident type: "Distracted driving, which includes texting, talking on your cellphone, eating, those kinds of things," Hull said.
The state had 20 deaths from distracted driving, up from 15 the previous year.
Among other accident types caused by risky behavior, Utah had 41 deaths related to drunken driving, down from 37 a year earlier. It had 49 related to aggressive driving or speeding, down from 57.
Hull noted that about 80 percent of all accidents occur in clear conditions. "So that's a pretty big indicator that most accidents are not weather related, but driver's behavior is contributing."
As just one example of safety changes in the past decade, he noted that UDOT had seen that some of the worst multiple-fatality accidents resulted from cars on freeways crossing into opposing traffic. So it installed many concrete and cable barriers, which he said has dramatically decreased such deaths.
"People ask a lot if zero fatalities can ever be achieved," Hull said. "I believe our downward trend and that we have hit this lowest number since 1959 is an indication that this is achievable. We are on that path, and we are making it happen."
A few subcategories where Utah did achieve zero fatalities last year include train-related deaths (down from two the year before), and it had no highway deaths on the Memorial and Independence Day holidays (which had a combined four deaths in 2011).
Two of Utah's 29 counties also had zero fatalities last year: Iron and Piute.
Meanwhile, data show that the deadliest highways last year were Interstate 15 with 32 deaths, followed by U.S. 89 with 13, I-80 with 11 and U.S. 40 with 10.