Better Driving Holds Key to Further Improvement
You can’t exactly call it good news, but it’s certainly an improvement on bad news. Fewer people died on Colorado streets, roads, and highways in 2018 than in the prior year, reversing a six-year upward trend.
According to the most recent tally from the Colorado Department of Transportation, 620 people died from injuries in Colorado traffic accidents in 2018, down 4.3 percent from 2017, when 648 died. Not counting 2017, the death count is still higher than any year since 2011. You might expect the new number to edge up a bit in the next few weeks as late coroner’s reports come in.
Although it’s a statistically small drop, to state transportation officials, it’s enough to warrant hope that the upward trend is over, according to Vail Daily writer Sawyer D’Argonne. Back in 2002, traffic deaths horrifically ended the lives of 743 people, but they plummeted by 101 the next year, and 2004 began a downward trend that lasted until 2012.
Fault Lies Not in Our Roads but in Ourselves
Some analysts have credited the nation’s poor economy for the decline and blamed the increases on economic recovery. Others will point to Colorado’s growing population. The state has about 5.6 million residents, up from 4.9 million 10 years ago, D’Argonne reported. A related statistic, the total number of miles driven by motor vehicles per year has also jumped (it’s an acknowledged predictor of car accident rates).
CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said increases of recent years can be blamed partly on increases in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in cities, D’Argonne wrote. That number jumped by 100 percent during the past five years. But a bigger share of the risk — and blame — comes from people driving while impaired, failing to fasten their seatbelts and speeding. If everyone wore their seatbelts, Colorado traffic fatalities would drop by 60 or more each year, Cole said. Eliminating drunk driving could save another 100 to 200 lives each year.
Public Awareness a Reason for Optimism
Overall, though, Cole is optimistic about improving the safety of Colorado’s roadways. Despite the persistence of problems with seatbelt usage and impaired driving, the numbers would be much greater if it were not for the state’s periodic education and enforcement campaigns, such as The Heat Is On and Click It or Ticket. CDOT partnered with a manufacturer to promote the use of smartphone breathalyzers, and now Colorado is ranked first in the United States for their usage.
Ultimately, the state’s traffic fatality rates depend mostly on decisions of residents to drive safely, Cole said. He pointedly avoids using the term “accidents” and instead says “crashes” because of that factor. Every crash is related to someone’s poor choice.
“It does look like we’re finally at a breaking point where fatalities will finally be stabilizing. Though, one year does not make a trend. We need people in 2019 to be extra diligent when they’re on the roads. […] Over 90 percent of crashes are related to somebody’s behavior, and not a rock fall or the design of the roadway. The good news is we can control that. It’s in our ability to bring these traffic fatalities down. We just need the perseverance to do so.”