ROAD TO ZERO
Speeding, distracted driving leading to increase in crashes on Utah city streets
SALT LAKE CITY — A split-second driving decision by a woman right as Brielle Frear and a friend crossed the road in a Taylorsville crosswalk is the reason her life changed forever.
The woman slammed into Frear, a high schooler at the time, leaving the then-teen in the ICU, with her family wondering if she’d survive.
“She was getting a toy for her kid in the back seat,” Frear would later be told.
It’s the reason Frear had to relearn how to walk, talk and eat. That woman’s driving decision is the reason Frear is deaf in one ear, suffers frequent debilitating migraines, and is in so much constant pain that it’s hard to be active.
It’s the reason that, six years later, Frear still has a hard time talking about what happened.
Her brain won’t let her form the words.
“There’s a lot, it’s just not coming,” Frear said, pausing to think. “Um… it’s like I have a lot to say, and it’s in my head — but it doesn’t come out the way I want it to.”
Frear has a traumatic brain injury. She angers easily, saying small things can set her off and she’ll start screaming and yelling. She used to love to dance, and was looking at dance scholarships to college. Frear can no longer dance because she can’t balance.
The crash ruined her dreams for the future.
Still, Frear feels like she was able to make it further than anyone thought she would because of all the help from doctors and family support.
She knows many others don’t get that.
“There’s so many people out there that are getting hit and getting hurt, either dying or in critical condition,” she said.
Crashes on city streets, like the one that almost killed Frear, are only accelerating in Utah.
“We have seen an increase in the number of crashes and fatalities,” said Kristen Hoschouer, program manager for Zero Fatalities. “In our last year, we’ve seen it higher than we’ve seen in a long time.”
In at least a half decade, according to statistics from Zero Fatalities. Over the last five years, data shows there’s been over 5,000 fatal or serious injury crashes on urban surface streets in Utah.
The numbers hit a high in 2021, with the months of May, June and July being the worst.
Of all the non-interstate related crashes, 60% happened at an intersection.
Hoschouer explained that a lot of that has to do with people speeding on city streets, simply not watching what’s going on around them.
“This is a problem we’ve been seeing lately of people not being alert or being distracted behind the wheel,” she said.
In addition to distracted driving, speeding is a huge problem that Sandy police Sgt. Greg Moffitt said has been rising in their city recently.
He said people seem to be going faster than normal. The top five moving violation tickets they hand out are related to speed.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my 20 years,” he said of municipalities seeing such a huge speeding problem on surface streets.
Moffitt explained that the issue isn’t necessarily neighborhood roads, but the issue is people driving freeway speeds on thoroughfares and state roads, like State Street.
“Seventy miles-an-hour on roads that are posted speed limits of 40, 45 miles-an-hour,” Moffitt explained.
The city has already surpassed their yearly average for fatal accidents halfway through 2022.
“They’re hitting pedestrians, they’re hitting cyclists because they just can’t perceive and react appropriately because of their speeds,” he said.
Moffitt described how the department recently added overtime shifts, specifically for traffic enforcement, and that Sandy City launched an initiative called “Slow Down in Your Town” to raise awareness of the problem.
“Take your time, get there safely,” he urged. “Just have a little bit of, I would say, some respect for some of the other people that are out there.”
Frear didn’t get that respect, and now she’s left with the consequences.
“I kind of wish it didn’t happen, because I wouldn’t have had the struggles as I do today,” she said.
She’s now facing a lifetime of issues from that split-second driving decision. She’s hoping others take a moment before making the same mistake.
“I just want them to pay attention,” she said, “and stay focused on the road.”
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