- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The 280 people who died in traffic-related deaths on state roads last year were the most in nine years, according to state figures released Wednesday.

The tally marks the fourth consecutive year the figure has increased after deaths went down for five straight years to a low of 217 in 2012.

Most of the crashes were caused by human error, state transportation and public safety officials said Wednesday at a news conference at the state capitol. Those reasons include not wearing seat belts, drowsy driving, aggressive driving, impaired driving and distracted driving that includes people using their cellphones.

More than eight in 10 deaths occurred on dry roads, data show. Six in ten occurred during daytime hours. Nearly seven in ten occurred when weather was clear.

“I’m outraged that we’re losing that many lives on Utah’s roadways when we don’t have to,” said Carlos Braceras, the Utah Department of Transportation’s executive director. “I need every single person who gets behind the wheel of a car to understand what they’re doing is probably the most serious thing they’re going to do all day long. Their lives depend on it. Their children’s lives depend on it.”

At an event meant to draw awareness to the issue, placards with images of black ribbons were set up on the indoor capitol steps to represent each of the deaths, the Deseret News reports (https://bit.ly/2jyxibn ).

The deadliest holiday weekend was Pioneer Day in July, when nine people were killed, data showed. The July 24 holiday commemorates the date in 1847 when Mormon pioneers ended their treacherous journey from Illinois and discovered the Salt Lake Valley.

Interstate 15, which runs north-south through Utah, accounted for the most deaths with 24, data show. It was followed by U.S. Route 89 in south-central Utah, which saw 17 fatalities and Interstate 80, which recorded 16 deaths.

Distracted driving deaths that include people texting or using their cellphones accounted for 22 fatalities this year. That’s only the case where investigators know for sure that was the cause, said John Gleason, Department of Transportation spokesman.

The problem of people using their cellphones while on the roads remains a major challenge in the state despite a law that makes it illegal for people to manipulate a phone by hand while driving, including changing music, dialing and texting, Gleason said.

“Wherever you go on the roads, you see people on their phones,” Gleason said. “Distracted driving is one of the biggest challenges we have ahead of us as technology continues to improve.”

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Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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