UDOT: Higher speed limits not behind rise in traffic deaths

In this undated photo provided by the Utah Department of Transportation a worker installs a highway sign. Utah is increasing the speed limit to 80 mph on several stretches of highways around the state. The state legislature approved the new, faster zones during the last session. The change was spurred by a Utah Department of Transportation study that found that fewer crashes occurred on the existing stretches of highway with 80 mph speed limits. The new fast zones include Interstate 80 from the Nevada border to Utah Route 36 in eastern Utah and Interstate 15 from Brigham City to the Idaho border in northern Utah. Speeds will also be increased on Interstate 15 between Santaquin and North Leeds in central-southern Utah. The 75 mph zones remain on that stretch through two mountain passes and Cedar City. (AP Photo/Utah Department of Transportation)

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Utah transportation officials say traffic-related deaths have risen this year but newly raised speed limits are not the cause.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1KhZNvk) that Utah Department of Transportation officials are confident speed limit changes are not why traffic fatalities are up by 5 percent.

UDOT increased the limit on interstates last December to 70 mph and put up 80 mph speed limits in some rural areas.

The Utah Highway Patrol and AAA travel services companies were among those who initially argued the increases would lead to more crashes and injuries.

UDOT spokesman Jason Davis said late last week that not wearing seatbelts and distracted driving are the biggest contributing factors.

“We’re seeing increases on the lower-speed local collector roads and city streets,” he said.

A state law which makes failure to use a seatbelt a primary offense went into effect in May.

“We continue to see the lack of seat-belt use as a large contributor,” he said. “If folks were belted in on some of those — not all of them — they would be walking away or going home that evening instead of having to stay in a hospital or worse.”

The state also has a two-year-old law banning people from manipulating a phone by hand while driving, including changing music, dialing and texting.

Last year, a bill that would have banned drivers from using cell phones entirely failed in the Legislature.

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