It was early in the morning on the Fourth of July when Meghan and Morgan Hunter swerved to avoid hitting a deer on the road and lost control of their vehicle.
The sister and brother were wearing seat belts when the car rolled several times and landed sideways on the side of the highway. Both were able to exit the car before first responders arrived.
At the hospital, doctors discovered Meghan Hunter had broken three vertebrae in her neck during the crash. She was planning on starting her freshman year at Brigham Young University in the fall and running on the university’s track team.
Now she is waiting one year to recover before participating on the team. She was still wearing a neck brace when she shared her story on Thursday at a press conference hosted by the Utah Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety.
“I knew my neck was really sore, but I didn’t know the extent of how bad it was,” Meghan Hunter said. “It made me feel lucky that things weren’t worse.”
Jason Davis, deputy director for the Utah Department of Transportation Engineering and Operations, said he doesn’t believe luck has anything to do with the outcome of the crash.
“They weren’t lucky that they had their seat belts on. They made the decision to put their seat belts on. They weren’t lucky that they were driving the speed limit. They made that decision,” he said. “We don’t need to be lucky. We need to make better decisions out there on the road.”
The number of fatalities during the “100 Deadliest Days” of summer dropped nearly 40% this summer, officials reported, making 2019's summer road fatalities numbers lower than ever.
A total of 103 people died on Utah roads last year during the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This year, that number dropped to 62 people.
“Historically, our numbers have averaged about one fatality a day during that time period,” Davis said. “We’re extremely optimistic that people are changing their behaviors.”
For more than 10 years, the department’s Zero Fatalities education program has strived to educate Utah drivers on safe driving habits like buckling up and never driving aggressively or while impaired, drowsy or distracted.
Statistically, the most dangerous time of year to drive is during the summer, Davis explained. The longest stretch of days without a fatality this year were 11 days between June 2 and June 12.
More than half of all the fatalities in the past six years were men, according to UDOT statistics. Failing to wear a seat belt caused at least 10 fatalities this year, and speeding and distracted driving was the reason behind another 10 fatalities.
“Our troopers respond to the scene and they get to see what happens at the scene of a high speed crash. They experience firsthand the frustration when it involves someone who didn’t chose to wear their seat belt,” said Utah Highway Patrol Col. Michael Rapich at the press conference. “We get to go and try to explain that to family members and explain why someone isn’t going to be able to come home.”
Surrounded by 41 people wearing numbered t-shirts representing each survivor compared to last year, Rapich thanked law enforcement, first responders and dispatchers who work together to help motorists after harrowing crashes.
“Crashes happen, but let’s do everything in our power to prevent them from happening,” Davis said.