KSL interviewed John Gleason, a spokesman for UDOT who said, “"Right now, the motorcycle fatalities — it's very troubling, and we're seeing a big increase in the number of deaths of motorcycle riders." Gleason went on to explain that 27 motorcyclists have died on Utah roads so far in 2022, from Jan. 1 to July 18. It's far above the average of 19 looking at the same time period over the last five years. That's a 40% increase, and UDOT is not exactly sure why the numbers are as high as they are.
I am an active Utah motorcycle lawyer currently representing many injured motorcyclists who have survived and the families of motorcyclists who have died. Here are my observations and opinions about why there are more motorcycle deaths and what to do about it.
More Motorcycles on the Road
All you have to do is simply drive to work on any given day and look about. There are many more motorcycles on the road—everything from moped, to small street bikes, sports bikes, and cruisers. Why? Because gas prices are high. I do not want to get into a political debate about why gas prices are high or who is to blame, if anyone. The fact that gas prices are high, and motorcycles are cheaper to run than cars and trucks, the result is more motorcycles.
I almost always used to ride my Harley to work—not so much over the last year. Even driving my truck, I encounter wondering drivers every day—straying out of their lanes. Because my truck is relatively high I look down on other drivers and oftentimes the wondering driver is doing everything in their vehicle except paying attention while driving—eating, fiddling with the counsel, looking for something, on and on.
Cell Phone Use
I blogged the other day about the cell phone law in Utah. When we get a new motorcycle injury case the first thing we do is get the offender's cell phone records. Last year (2021), of all the motorcycle injury cases we handled, about 75% of the offenders were using their cell phones either at the time of the crash or immediately before the crash. Do you think they were distracted?
Slow Down and Look
Maybe it is because I am older but people seem to be in such a rush—SLOW DOWN! Try stopping at a stop sign where you are supposed to stop—look before making that left turn—look before you change lanes.
What To Do About It--Enforce the Law
1: Investigate the Case – Get Cell Phone Records
Over the years I have looked at hundreds of DI-9's (crash reports) from Salt Lake City Police, Murray Police, Midvale Police, Utah Highway Patrol and many other local police agencies. I have never seen an investigation where the cell phone records of the individual has been requested in the course of the investigation.
2: In Death Cases – Prosecute the Offender
The Utah Code defines, under which circumstances, a person may be charged with negligent vehicular homicide. 76-5-207. Negligently operating a vehicle resulting in death -- Penalties -- Evidence. I am not a criminal attorney but Darwin Overson is. On his website he states, “It is also important to note that this particular statute only applies when the defendant was driving under the influence or using a cellphone or similar technology while driving.”
3: What About Reckless Driving
The reckless driving law in Utah is under 41-6a-528 and it is short:
1: A person is guilty of reckless driving who operates a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
2: For purposes of this section, "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property" includes:
(a) traveling on a highway at a speed of 105 miles per hour or greater; or
(b) committing three or more traffic violations under Title 41, Chapter 6a, Traffic Code, in a series of acts occurring within a single continuous period of driving covering three miles or less in total distance.
Police and prosecutors need to be screening these cases and prosecute when indicated. Whether the case tried results in a successful conviction or not, you will put people on notice that you are taking these cases seriously.
That's it—I will get off my soapbox even though I could write on for hours. I believe these are good places for UDOT to start looking at how to decrease motorcycle deaths in the Great State of Utah.
PS: I also realize that some motorcycle deaths are the result of the motorcyclists themselves. To that topic I say ATGATT (all the gear all the time) and be as careful as you can when out on the road.
Utah Bike Law and its attorneys are licensed to practice law only in the State of Utah and maintain offices in Salt Lake City, Utah. No attorney client relationship is established by simply visiting this website. The opinions expressed are our own.