According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, traffic fatalities have increased dramatically in the past few years. Improved safety technology including anti-lock brakes, rear view cameras and air bags haven’t been able to overcome motorists not wearing seat belts or helmets, drinking and driving and distracted driving.
According to 2016 CDOT data, driving deaths jumped from 488 in 2014 to 605 in 2016, an increase of 24 percent in two years. The state trend surpasses national data by a large margin – countrywide fatalities increased by eight percent. This is particularly discouraging data considering the dramatic 34 percent decrease in Colorado crashes ending in death from 2002 to 2014. The last time Colorado traffic deaths surpassed 600 was in 2005 when 606 deaths were recorded.
Passenger deaths comprised 63percent of all incidents. In nearly half those fatalities (49 percent), passengers were not wearing seat belts. Overall, 16 percent of automobile travelers do not use seat belts, pointing to lack of seat belt use as a major risk factor for traffic accident death. In a press release, CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt underscored a lack of seat belt use as a prime factor in fatalities, “A lot can be done to mitigate the increase; for example, if everyone buckled up we could save over 60 lives per year.” In a January press conference, Bhatt pointed to personal habits and responsibility as the culprit in the majority of motorist fatalities.
Colorado does not have a primary seat belt law whereby drivers and front seat passengers can be stopped for not wearing a seat belt. As a secondary offense, drivers can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt, but only if stopped for another violation. However, child passenger seat belts are mandatory and a primary offense, motorists can be stopped for not complying with child seat belt laws.
The department launched a public awareness campaign to increase seat belt use, and is partnering with non-profits throughout the state to stem the one-third of traffic deaths related to alcohol use (196 in total). In March, CDOT sent a 9-foot grenade around the state with the message, “An unbuckled passenger can be just as deadly,” highlighting the danger that an unbuckled passenger is to themselves and others involved in a crash.
Motorcycles are well over represented in fatal crashes, accounting for 125 of the deaths last year, or 21 percent of the total. Motorcycle accident death increased a staggering 50 percent from 2012 and 18 percent from 2015-2016. This marks the highest rate of motorcycle traffic deaths in state history; most neglected to wear a helmet. In CDOT’s ‘Live to Ride’ motorcycle campaign, the department emphasizes proper training, protective gear and sober riding.
Pedestrian death from auto accidents reached new levels as well. Eighty-four fatalities were recorded in 2016, an increase of nearly one-third from the previous year. Bicyclist deaths also show a substantial uptick from the decade before 2012. In 2012 the high watermark for cyclist deaths,
accounted for 2.7 percent of the total, slightly more than 2015 and 2016 when cyclists accounted for 2.6 percent of total traffic fatalities. Some of this is accounted for in the increase of cycling commuters, but outpaces overall state population growth which is under 2 percent.
The top three counties accounting for the majority of traffic fatalities are grouped tightly together – Adams had 60, Weld had 56, and Denver 54. El Paso County was ranked fourth with 46 deaths in 2016.
Colorado is on track to decrease traffic fatalities this year. In the first four months of the year, state roadways witnessed 157 traffic deaths. Denver is the city with the highest death rate with 13, Colorado Springs follows with 11. Of all statewide deaths, 36 percent were fatalities involving impaired drivers, a lower rate than recorded in the last few years. If current trends continue, motorist deaths could be as much as 22 percent lower this year.
The Colorado State Patrol responds to highway accidents. CSP Chief Scott Hernandez joined CDOT in the safety press release encouraging safety first, “We encourage drivers to make good decisions… drive sober… buckling up, dropping the distractions and focusing on driving.”