SALT LAKE CITY — John Overbaugh says it’s scary on the road.
“The roads are packed with cars now,” said the competitive cyclist, who has homes in Layton and Ivins. “A lot of drivers are distracted, and that just kind of comes with the territory.
“But there are a lot of drivers who are very aggressive, and it’s much, much different than it was even a decade ago.”
As of Monday, Utah motorists had hit and killed 15 bicyclists and 52 pedestrians this year, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Both figures are the highest the agency has documented since at least 1994 (the earliest year that this data is readily available).
The death toll ranges from competitive cyclists to joggers getting exercise to children walking or riding to school.
Survivors often receive serious injuries. On Dec. 12, a van struck Brian Happel near 1000 South and West Temple in Salt Lake City.
His fiancé told FOX 13 he’s been going to daily doctor appointments since his discharge from the hospital and it could be months before he can return to his truck driving job again. Supporters have set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money for medical bills.
In all, this year the Department of Public Safety recorded 961 instances of vehicles hitting pedestrians as of Monday. That’s the highest since at least 2016.
Vehicles had hit bicyclists 478 times – roughly within the state’s five-year average.
Hugh Van Wagenen, the active transportation planner at the Wasatch Front Regional Council, stood with FOX 13 News on the corner of 300 West and North Temple in downtown Salt Lake City and pointed out problems that could be found at a lot of intersections.
“It’s a big intersection, very loud, very noisy,” Van Wagenen said. “You’ve got a lot of traffic moving through here.”
“How are we accommodating pedestrians?” he continued. “How are we accommodating bicyclists? Are we separating them from the major traffic? Are there cues in the roadway design that let people know, ‘Hey, this is a place that I need to slow down?’”
Even the signals to drivers can be problematic.
“The flashing yellow can be a little tricky if you’re trying to make a lefthand turn in a vehicle,” Van Wagenen said, “because are you watching for oncoming traffic or are you watching for people in the crosswalk that might be there?”
Van Wagenen said if he could, he’d improve walkways and erect physical barriers separating bike lanes from cars.
“You might have to drop a lane of traffic here,” Van Wagenen said. “There are tradeoffs.”
The majority of drivers who strike people on foot or bicycles are sober and just don’t see what they should, said Dustin Lance, a personal injury attorney specializing in motorcycle and bicycle cases.
Lance sees problems in Utah law factoring into the number of crashes.
“If you get a ticket for a left turn failure to yield,” Lance said, “there’s no distinction if there’s a serious bodily injury, a death. You get the same ticket you would get if a police officer saw you fail to yield and no accident occurred.”
As for cell phones, Utah law forbids using them to message or surf the internet while driving but permits you to make a call or use other apps.
“Utah doesn’t have a pure hands-free law and we really need one,” Lance said.
Both Salt Lake City and the Utah Department of Transportation this year announced new programs or funding to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.