Motor Vehicle Safety

Preventing Motor Vehicle Crashes

"We do believe that if she had been wearing her seat belt she would have walked away with minor injuries."

Family of Malone Sheeran, a 16-year-old killed in a single vehicle crash

Utah has made significant progress in reducing motor vehicle crashes over the last 40 years, such as:

  • Traffic safety programs and media campaigns, like Zero Fatalities, that educate the public on behaviors that can lead to crashes.
  • Legislation mandating child safety seat use and graduated driver licensing laws for teen drivers.
  • Legislation allowing primary seat belt enforcement, meaning a law enforcement officer can pull you over and give you a ticket for not wearing a seat belt.
  • Legislation for enhanced penalties for impaired and distracted driving.
  • Improved engineering of roadways.
  • Improved safety of motor vehicles.
  • Advances in emergency response and treatment.

Despite the enormous toll motor vehicle crashes have, progress is being made. Traffic deaths were the lowest total in Utah since 1974 (1).

Seat Belt Use in Utah

Each year in Utah, it is estimated that more than 100 lives are saved on the roads, and an additional 50 lives would have been saved “if only” a seat belt was worn. Seat belts are the single most effective traffic safety device for preventing death and injury in a crash. Over the last five years, lamost half of all people (45%) who died on Utah's roads weren't buckled. Three out of four people who are ejected during a fatal crash die from their injuries. In a crash, unbuckled passengers can become a projectile and increase the risk of hurting or killing others in the car by 40%. Wearing a seat belt also helps to keep the driver of a vehicle stay in their seat and maintain control of the vehicle.

When the driver is unbuckled, 76% of children also ride unbuckled. When the driver is belted, 87% of children also ride with a seat belt. Be an example and buckle up.

Cell Phone Use while Driving

Studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving, even if it’s hands-free, impairs driving ability, especially for younger drivers. Drivers who used cell phones have 18% slower reaction times while driving and a two-fold increase in the number of rear-end crashes (3, 4). Drivers who talk on handheld or hands-free cell phones are just as impaired as drunk drivers with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level (5).

According to the Utah Highway Safety Office (1):

  • Cell phone use was the leading cause of driver distraction in Utah in 2013, accounting for 14.% of the 5.013 distracted driving crashes.
  • Crashes involving a cell phone distracted driver were 1.5 times more likely to result in an injury when compared to all crashes (in 2012).
  • Drivers distracted by cell phones were 53% more likely to be age 15-19 compared to all drivers involved in crashes (in 2012).

Nearly three-fourths of all Utah adult drivers (74%) and half of high school students who drive (50%) admitted they talk on a cell phone daily while behind the wheel. One-quarter of Utah adult drivers and 61% of teens in 12th grade reported they text and drive daily (6-8). Additional data showed:

  • Younger adults (18-34 years) are more likely to text and drive than any other age group (40%).
  • Adult drivers ages 35-49 reported the highest percentage of talking on a cell phone while driving among all age groups (83%). This was true for both male and female drivers.
  • Males are more likely to text and drive compared to females (31% vs. 18%) for all ages.
  • Adult drivers with a college education reported the highest percentage of talking on a cell phone while driving (78%) while drivers with less than a high school education reported the lowest percentage of talking on a cell phone while driving (53%).
  • Adult drivers with household income levels greater than $50,000 reported the highest percentage of talking on a cell phone while driving (85%). These drivers also reported the highest percentage of texting while driving (28%).
  • Adult drivers with household income levels below $20,000 reported the lowest percentage of talking on a cell phone while driving (45%).
  • Adult drivers in rural areas reported a higher percentage of talking on a cell phone (75% vs. 69%) and texting (26% vs. 21%) while driving than drivers in urban areas.

Traffic Safety Laws in Utah

Primary Seat Belt Enforcement. Effective May 12, 2015, Utah law requires that all passengers must wear a seat belt and children ages 8 or younger must be properly restrained in a car or booster seat. If you or anyone in your vehicle aren't properly restrained, you can be issued a $45 citation. A seat belt fine is waived upon completion of an online, 30-minute seat belt safety course. A detailed list of occupant protection laws can be found at Click It Utah.

Graduated Driver License (GDL) Laws. Since Utah's GDL law was passed in 1999, there has been a 62% decrease in the rate of teens ages 15-17 killed in motor vehicle crashes! Prevention and education efforts by groups such as the Utah Teen Driving Task Force and Safe Kids Utah have led to a 42% drop in the rate of teen motor vehicle deaths in Utah since 2007, when the Task Force was created.

Cellphone Use and Texting While Driving Laws. Effective July 1, 2009, HB290 prohibits all drivers in Utah from text messaging while driving and provides harsh penalties for violating the law.

Effective March 13, 2014, SB253 prohibit drivers in Utah from operating their cellphones for anything without the use of a hands-free device. Drivers will not be allowed to dial, write, send, or read any data or take photos or video on any device that isn’t a permanent part of their car. Teens under the age of 18 were already banned from talking on their cellphones prior to SB253 being passed.

An overview of additional traffic safety laws in Utah can be found at the Governors Highway Safety Administration.


  1. 2012 Utah Crash Summary Report
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  3. Just, MA, Keller, TA, Cynkara, JA. Decrease in brain activation associated with driving when listening to someone speak. Brain Research, 2008: 1205; 70-80.
  4. Strayer, DL, Drews FA. Profiles in Driver Distraction: Effects of Cell Phone Conversations on Younger and Older Drivers. Human Factors, 2004: 46(4); 640-649.
  5. Strayer, D L, Drews, F.A, Crouch, D.J. A comparison of the cell phone driver and the drunk driver. Human Fac­tors, 2006: 48; 381-391.
  6. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2010
  7. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2009
  8. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011