Traffic fatalities surge in Colorado

DENVER, Colo. — Shailen Bhatt, the Executive Director for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), says Colorado has an epidemic of distracted driving.

It’s a statement he made to the press Tuesday afternoon during a press conference with the chief of Colorado State Patrol and a surgeon at the Swedish Medical Center.

The urgent meeting comes after traffic fatalities in Colorado rose 24 percent in the last two years.

In 2016 there were 605 traffic fatalities in Colorado, compared to 547 deaths in 2015.

Last year, El Paso County had 48 traffic fatalities – the same as the year before – but it places it fourth on the list of counties with the most deaths.

Adams County was first with 60, followed by Weld (56) and Denver (54).

Bhatt said the increase in fatalities is “unacceptable.”

“I actually just came from the legislature downtown and on my way back her I saw innumerable instances of a light turning green and a car standing still, cars weaving a little bit in and out and when you get up beside them you see them doing the sort of looky-loo and what is amazing to me is that people are doing this while they’re traveling down the road,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt added that it’s the most vulnerable road users that are at the most risk – meaning pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

Perhaps the most shocking of the data is that motorcycle fatalities hit an all time high last year at 125. That number is up 50 percent since 2012.

Twenty more motorcyclists died in 2016 than in 2015.

According to the data, 78 of the motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet. CDOT estimates that 25 lives could be saved each year if everyone wore a helmet.

Pedestrian fatalities also saw a huge spike, jumping up 30 percent from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 84 pedestrian deaths were reported, compared to 64 the year before.

Based on the data, it’s predicted that one in every 33 Colorado drivers will be in a crash this year.

To help drive these numbers down, CDOT and Colorado State Patrol are pleading with drivers to put away distractions, wear a seat belt and never drink and drive.

CDOT is launching a seat belt safety campaign in March with the goal of increasing the seat belt use rate beyond the current 84 percent.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that over 60 people could be saved if every one buckled up.

CDOT also has plans to spend $390,000 in 2017 on motorcycle safety campaigns targeting both drivers and motorcycle riders.

At this point, there’s no talk about changing or adding any laws like a cellphone ban or helmet or seat belt requirement.

Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez believes the best way to bring these numbers back down is for all drivers to take personal responsibility and stay focused behind the wheel.

“Each and every person needs to take that personal accountability and not drink and drive, pay attention and not get distracted,” he said. “We know those things cost thousands and thousands of lives. I’m pleading with everyone to help us assist in driving the staggering numbers down. It’s important to save our family members lives, your family members lives.”

Colorado is not alone in its struggle. Traffic fatalities are up by about 8 percent nationwide.

So far in 2017, there’s already been 33 traffic fatalities reported in Colorado.

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