2015 Top Ten – Transportation Funding & Traffic Safety

Written by: Dan Bammes

The Utah Foundation Board of Trustees determined the issue of transportation funding was the top research finding of the year in our published reports. Highway safety is a related issue, and the question of using mobile phones while driving was ranked eighth among the top ten.


Transportation Funding


The Utah Foundation research report The Roads Less Traveled: Survey Analysis and Research Regarding Utah’s Local Roads included a survey of local government officials from around the state. It found that 82% of city and 95% of county respondents believe current transportation funding is insufficient.


In addition, it concluded proactive pavement maintenance can save cities and counties hundreds of thousands of dollars per lane-mile over the life of a roadway.


The Utah Transportation Coalition helped to fund the study, and after its publication, it launched an effort to pass a sales tax increase in counties across the state to help fund deferred maintenance needs as well as public transit. Proposition 1 succeeded in two Wasatch Front counties, Davis and Weber. But it failed in the state’s two most populous counties, Utah and Salt Lake. The dedicated funding in the ballot measure for Utah Transit Authority was put forward as the most likely reason for its defeat.


The research report also found that Utah’s Class B and Class C road funds, derived from the motor fuel tax, covered only about one-third of the cost of maintaining local roads. The Utah Legislature recognized the shortfall and passed an increase in the motor fuel tax of 4.9 cents per gallon, which took effect January 1, 2016.


While the report demonstrated a broadly-held view among state and local officials that transportation funding in Utah is inadequate, measures to bring in additional funding have shown only mixed success.


Traffic Safety and Mobile Phone Use


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State Representative Lee Perry, Utah Highway Patrol Captain Doug McCleve and Salt Lake City Deputy Police Chief Mike Brown talk about Utah’s new seat belt law at a news conference March 31, 2015

One of the leading researchers on the risks of mobile phone use while driving is Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah. Utah Foundation’s research report Utah in the Fast Lane: An Analysis of Driving and Traffic Safety cited Dr. Strayer’s research and his conclusion that talking on a cellphone while driving – with or without a hands-free connection – is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .08%, the legal standard for drunk driving. Utah law still allows hand-held cellphone use while driving, though texting and other manipulation of devices for playing music and other purposes is prohibited.


A new law allowing police officers to pull over drivers simply for not wearing a seat belt went into effect with the new year in 2015. Utah Foundation held a news conference with several public safety agencies to talk about that issue when we released the report on March 31st. It was extensively covered by Utah news media, and the public safety agencies involved said they were grateful for the help in getting that message out.


Other findings of the report included a chart showing the likelihood of injury among motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets (Utah law does not require helmets for riders over 18), the changes in restrictions on young drivers, and the progress made against drunk driving over the past couple of decades in Utah.


Interestingly, this report marked the third time Utah Foundation had addressed driving safety in a research report. In 1955, a report looked at the need for driver education in Utah’s public schools. Another report looking at the problem of drunk driving was published in 1980.

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