After two pedestrians died crossing Main Street last month, a side-by-side closely missed construction workers on Mill Creek Drive, and a collision with a car injured two motorcyclists, traffic safety is on the fore of many Moabites’ minds.
The events also serve as a reminder of some of the starkest statistics about traffic-related injuries and deaths.
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of accidental death worldwide. For people in the United States who are 15 to 29 years old, vehicle collisions were the most common cause of death last year. Data from the Utah Departments of Transportation and Public Safety offers a closer look at how these risks apply in and around Moab.
Deadly collisions with motorcycles, pedestrians
Of all the accidents reported to police in Grand and San Juan counties since 2015, almost a quarter involved death or injury, according to state data. The most common type of crash reported to police involves no injuries, only damage to the vehicle or vehicles involved.
While most accidents yield no injuries, certain collisions are highly dangerous. In Grand and San Juan counties, accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycles are relatively rare but deadly when they occur.
Despite representing one in 20 collisions since 2015, pedestrian and motorcycle accidents together account for one in four accidents in the two counties. No collisions with bicycles resulted in death, but most of them yielded moderate to severe injuries.
Alcohol is another highly dangerous factor in accidents. For collisions where police alleged that a DUI had been committed, 64% resulted in death or injury.
Accidents are becoming more common
One of the obvious trends in crash data from state data is that the number of car accidents in Grand and San Juan counties has risen over the years, from a total of 556 in 2015 to 661 in 2018.
The increase could be caused by a variety of factors. Visitation to Moab has increased in recent years, meaning there are more vehicles on the road. Population in Moab is also growing, and the number of teenage and senior drivers is likely having an effect, as well.
Whatever the causes, data suggests not only that more accidents are occurring, but also that the average person who drives locally is more likely to get in an accident now than they were four years ago.
Highway crash risks have slightly increased
One random fact about Highway 191—the portion between Monticello through Moab and on to Crescent Junction—that turns out to be very useful is that, in 2017, drivers collectively put in 210 million miles of driving on the highway.
In 2015, this figure was 190 million miles. For reference, this is almost exactly the distance of a round trip from Earth to the Sun and back.
These figures, along with data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, show that between 2015 and 2017, the number of collisions on the stretch of Highway 191 between Monticello and Crescent Junction grew faster than the total distance traveled.
This finding suggests that drivers on Highway 191 faced a slightly increased risk of getting in a car accident in 2017 compared to 2015. Whereas one collision occurred every 230,000 miles traveled in 2015, one collision occurred every 210,000 miles in 2017.
More recent data is still pending, as the department compiles and finalizes traffic data for 2018. The Times-Independent is awaiting a response to a request to the Utah Department of Transportation for historical data to analyze longer-term trends.
Most crashes involve only one driver
Of the approximately 2,500 collisions that happened in Grand and San Juan counties between 2015 and early 2019, two out of every three of them involved only one vehicle. Most of these accidents, according to police, involved distracted, drowsy or drunken driving. Animals were another common factor.
Roadway departure is one of the other common factors in local car accidents. Roadway departure occurs when a vehicle goes off the road during an accident, and although it can happen anywhere, it is particularly common on certain stretches of road.
Do road conditions cause accidents?
Along Highway 191, around mile marker 142, there is a series of pull-offs that lead to Dalton Wells, an area just south of Canyonlands Airport with dispersed camping. The area is also known for being rich with paleontological finds.
Of the 13 accidents that have occurred between mile marker 141 and 143 since 2015, 10 were rollover accidents. This two-mile stretch of road accounts for more than one-sixth of the rollovers that have happened along Highway 191 since 2015.
Much of this stretch of highway has two lanes of travel—one in either direction—and no roadside barriers, but without more detailed crash data, it is hard to know whether these factors or, for example, the size of the shoulder contributed to the crashes.
Most of the accidents that occurred on Highway 191 near Dalton Wells did not result in injuries, and none were fatal. This anecdotal data does show that roadway departure is more common in some areas, but more data is needed to assess the safety gains offered by roadside barriers, large shoulders and rumble strips.
The Times-Independent will provide follow-up analysis on vehicle collisions, particularly on Highway 191, as more data becomes available.