OGDEN — The Utah Highway Patrol is raising alarm about two more apparent deadly impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic: Speeding is up and more people are drunk driving in the daytime.
Troopers are raising awareness of those trends as Utah enters what state officials call the “100 Deadliest Days,” the period of greater traffic from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Utah reported 276 traffic fatalities for the year in 2020, up from 225 the year before. Twenty-two of those fatalities in 2020 happened in Weber County.
“During COVID, speeds have really picked up,” UHP Lt. Justin Cheney, the patrol’s Weber-Morgan section commander, said Tuesday. “With lesser traffic, speeds have really gotten out of control and we’re trying to rein that back in.”
More troopers will be on the road over the Memorial Day weekend, Cheney said, enforcing speed, seat belt use and DUI.
“Alcohol DUIs are up and there are a lot more of them during the day,” Cheney said. “Section commanders are all seeing the same thing.”
Alcohol consumption is more prevalent among daytime drivers than before, he said. Prescription drugs used to be the most common cause of intoxicated daytime driving.
Cheney said one reason may be that with people cooped up at home during the height of the pandemic, some have begun drinking earlier in the day more often.
“It’s not just a guy going out drinking with his buddies on the weekend anymore,” he said.
The UHP is appealing for the public’s help, Cheney said, adding, “We can’t do everything through enforcement.”
If drivers would slow down, wear their seat belts and avoid intoxicants, there will be fewer fatalities.
“We’re way outnumbered,” he said of the UHP. “If we can get the public to understand the dangers of speeding and reckless driving, we all have a chance of everybody getting home safely.”
He urged people on the go this summer to “have fun, but get a designated driver.”
The UHP recently has launched a campaign to encourage greater seat belt use, a big way to prevent fatalities and minimize injuries. Other campaigns target distracted driving, another dangerous trend that has worsened.
“It is an effort to change driving behavior,” Cheney said. “If I slow down, not only am I safer but I have fewer chances of getting stopped. Hopefully safety overrides the fear of getting a ticket.”
Extra troopers will be out this weekend on the primary roads overseen by the UHP’s Weber-Morgan section, including Interstates 15 and 84, 1900 West from Hinckley Drive to the Box Elder County line, Trappers Loop Highway and State Roads 65 and 66 in Morgan County.
“As a society, we think we’ve become invincible,” Cheney said, but all are at risk for catastrophic crashes “where lives are ruined and destroyed.”