The number of people who have died in Utah as a result of drunken driving nearly doubled last year, hitting the highest number in more than a decade.
Alcohol-related traffic deaths increased from 23 to 45, according to an annual report presented to the state legislature by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice on Wednesday. Those 45 deaths amounted to nearly 18 percent of all highway fatalities in 2014, also the highest share in the past 10 years.
Presenters Mary Lou Emerson, director of the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council, and Ron Gordon, executive director of the Justice Commission, did not offer an explanation for the increase. They did, however, call for a campaign to curb drunken driving using education, increased enforcement and treatment for people with drinking problems.
The statistics raise “massive red flags,” Rep. David Lifferth, an Eagle Mountain Republican, told the Transportation Interim Committee. “These should get our attention. We should be aware of these and have policies to address them.”
Of the 45 deaths, 22 were the drunken driver, eight were passengers in the drunk driver’s car, nine were occupants of other vehicles, five were pedestrians and one was a bicyclist. Seven of the 37 drivers in those accidents were convicted of a DUI within the previous five years.
Meanwhile, the DUI arrest rate has declined steadily. There has been a nearly 37 percent decrease since 2009.
About 70 percent of people arrested for DUI are first-time offenders, said Emerson, who suggested a public awareness campaigns would help prevent the crime.
Drug-related DUI deaths have been the state’s focus in recent years and had been almost twice as common as alcohol DUIs, according to Emerson.
But those deaths have actually decreased, according to the report: from 45 in 2013 to 38 in 2014.