This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Road Warrior Caucus of the Utah Legislature may well look at a new set of data from the state's Department of Transportation and conclude that raising the speed limits on Interstate highways wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Those who argue, against all logic and humanity, that people in cars should be able to do just about any damn fool thing they want because freedom will be justifiably pleased by the latest UDOT analysis. It concludes that speed limits that now go up to 70 mph on freeways through urban areas and up to 80 mph on more rural stretches have not been the cause of an uptick in traffic fatalities.
But traffic fatalities are up, both in raw numbers and in relation to vehicle miles traveled. Lawmakers who are likely to point to stats about speed being (relatively) safe should not be allowed to ignore the numbers that tie a higher fatality count to the clear hazards of cell phones.
The dots on the map don't connect to any conclusion that it is higher speed limits that caused that increase.
What is associated with more fatal accidents, the experts say, is the reluctance of too many people to fasten their seat belts and the fact that far too many drivers just can't leave their cell phones alone while they are piloting a ton of glass and steel down the road.
Those two common failures mean that while those attempting to match the speed of an F-35 along I-15 aren't killing themselves, or other people, as much as was feared, accidents on slower highways and even city streets are more frequent and more deadly.
A driver who hasn't bothered to buckle up, and hasn't insisted that his passengers do the same, has established a pattern of dangerous inattentiveness that threatens himself as well as other motorists and pedestrians.
And what more needs to be said about the dangers of using cell phones while driving? Research done right here at the University of Utah has demonstrated how using a cell phone while driving is as much of an intoxicant as being drunk behind the wheel.
In recent years, Utah lawmakers have taken some steps to clean up their seat belt and distracted driver laws. Failure to buckle up is now a primary offense, meaning an officer can stop you just for that. And dialing or texting while driving is now illegal.
Next should be a law that bans all cell phone use, even just talking, while driving. And, more than that, some hard data and word of mouth that the law really is being enforced. The life those laws, and that enforcement, save could be yours.