In 2021, speeding resulted in 7,951 crashes in Utah, adding to the already increasing rate of car crashes. Distracted driving and speeding are the top two causes of vehicle accidents.
Utah Highway Patrol officer Sgt. Michael Irvine has been with the highway patrol for years and has seen a lot in his time when it comes to car crashes.
“The number one cause of crashes is speed, followed by following too close secondary,” Irvine said. “The increase of crashes can have a lot of factors. The four common ones are speed, distracted driving, impaired driving and aggressive driving.”
A car crash happens every eight minutes in Utah, while someone is injured from a wreck every 20 minutes. A person dies from a car crash in Utah every 33 hours.
Teen drivers cause accidents because of their inexperience. In the past year, 22% of car crashes in Utah were teen related. Out of all the crashes, there were 13,501 teens involved in accidents, resulting in 6,162 injuries and 46 teen deaths.
Car crashes are among the top leading causes of death for teenagers. Transportation safety reported that teens are more likely to be in an accident due to their inexperience and not being able to recognize serious situations. They are more likely to speed by doing so, leaving shorter headways for other drivers.
“Inexperience is probably one of the biggest issues other than distracted driving,” Rodriguez said. “I find that a lot of people that don’t know what they’re doing can get into minor crashes but not severe ones.”
On top of inexperience, teens can be distracted and make poor decisions, like receiving a text, changing the song on the radio or being distracted by friends in the car, even if they are trying to be careful.
Incidents of reckless driving
Jonathon Rodriguez, a local Ogden teen, was recently in a car accident. Rodriguez mentioned that he had the right of way and a car ran into him while making an illegal turn. The man driving the vehicle ran into the side of Rodriguez’s car. The man then sped off, hitting two different vehicles. Later Rodriguez found out that the guy was running away from the cops.
“No one was injured in our crash, but it was a surreal experience,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t wake up in the morning thinking that something like this is going to happen, but when you look at it, anything can happen at any time. I guess I got to see a real-life car chase, but it sucks that I got hit in the process.”
Teens can receive their license as early as age 16. Drivers take a test to obtain a permit, which is about learning the driving rules. Then six months later, drivers are eligible to get a license. Young drivers get a six-month window of practice with an adult before they are set free to drive on their own.
In recent years, Sarah Frei, a teen, was injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver. Frei had to get both legs amputated. The man who hit her, Dustin Wesley Anderson, was sentenced to serve at least two and up to 12 years in Utah State Prison. Anderson was charged with four counts of driving under the influence and three third-degree felonies.
As a result of this crash, the Utah legislature passed a bill called Sarah’s Law. The bill mandates that anyone charged with a DUI who caused a death or serious injuries must stay in jail before their trial. The bill was unanimous within the senate, and it protects citizens from individuals who are dangerous to the public.
Vern Jensen, another local teen, recently got his license and was in a car accident. He was distracted by fiddling with his radio and hit a car in the process.
“My insurance is high now, but I’m still learning,” Jensen said. “My accident wasn’t too bad, but I see people follow someone close and they end up getting into an accident. I feel like I have to learn and get better. In my accident, I scratched the other person’s car, so they didn’t react badly about it.”
Impaired driving, aggressive driving and distracted driving are all based on the decision-making of the driver.
Fatima Trigueros is a teen in Ogden. She hit a car while she was backing up in a parking lot. After she hit the car, she looked at the driver, exchanging glances. Then Trigueros just drove off.
“The accident was my fault. I have to be more careful when I drive,” Trigueros said. “The lady looked mad, but the accident wasn’t a big thing, so I just drove off and went on with my day.”
Trigueros drives with her sister, another teen and her younger brother. Trigueros gave an example of some of the incidents in which she got distracted: Her music, her siblings and a game called bingo that they play.
“I can’t drive if my music isn’t playing. It’s bad, but I just need it to play while I drive,” Trigueros said.
Driving is about decision-making on the spot. The human brain is not fully developed until around age 25. The prefrontal cortex in the brain is where decision-making and judgment come into place.
On average, Utah Highway Patrol makes about 10 traffic stops a day, depending on the day. These calls can lead to them pulling over a young teen just starting out driving.
Crashes involving teens and young children are hard for officers. They are usually the first responders to most car crashes.
“Any time you’re dealing with children who have died in a crash, that’s always significant,” Irvine said. “Those are the crashes you will always remember. Those are the ones that are hardest to deal with.”
Irvine suggests that Utah drivers can reduce car crashes by avoiding being on their phones, being impaired, staying within the speed limit and trying not to be aggressive drivers. Utah Highway patrol focuses on individuals who have these distractions while driving.
A survey taken in 2019, and again in 2021, showed the use of seat belts by the citizens of Utah. In 2019, 90.2% of people used seat belts, and in 2021 it dropped down to 88.2%.
The study showed that female participants buckled up more than male participants. The female participants wore a seatbelt 90.9% of the time, whereas male participants were down to 86%.
In 2019, of teen drivers and passengers who didn’t wear a seat belt and were involved in a crash, 48% died. In May 2015 Utah’s seatbelt law became a primary enforcement law.
Teen drivers are inexperienced and have to learn more about driving to become dependable.