A few months ago, I quoted Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Shailen Bhatt, who said in a 5280 Magazine article: “It’s not acceptable to me that we’re likely going to have 700 deaths on our roadways this year. We have a system that is killing hundreds of Coloradans. We should not accept one death.”
A quote like that gets your attention. We have a system that is killing hundreds of Coloradans. If this were a ride at Elitch Gardens, we’d shut it down. But this is our roads! Every day, we all get in our cars and use this system of roads to get from point A to point B. The odds aren’t quite as bad as Russian Roulette, but I’m still saddened and angered that driving on Colorado’s roads can be such a dangerous endeavor.
In Colorado, fatal car accidents start to rise in April, steadily increasing through June and July, when they hit their peak.
And right now, as I write this, we are heading into spring, which means that fatal crashes will begin to rise. According to CDOT, fatal car accidents in Colorado start to rise in April, steadily increasing through June and July, when they hit their peak. Then they start declining again in the fall. The reason is obvious: more people are using our roads in the beautiful weather.
Pedestrians, bikers, roller bladers, motorcyclists, kids heading to the pool, neighborhood games of kickball, children chasing ice cream trucks, tourists eagerly driving to our gorgeous mountains… our roads get busier and busier in the spring and summer, leading to more fatal accidents.
Colorado Aims for Zero Deaths
In 2015, the state of Colorado launched an initiative called “Moving Toward Zero Deaths.” The goal is to reduce deaths on Colorado roads to zero. While you may think that sounds impossible, I applaud such an aspirational goal, which forces us to look at every aspect of roadway safety for improvements. The CDOT website states:
“Moving Towards Zero Deaths is a core value of the state’s new Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which provides innovative and data-driven approaches to improving highway safety. The plan leverages the success of safety programs statewide to decrease fatalities, serious injuries and crashes on Colorado’s roadways. The strategies in this new safety plan show immense promise in helping Colorado reach zero deaths. To demonstrate and measure progress, the new vision sets realistic interim goals, including reducing fatalities from 548 in 2008 to 416 by 2019. “
Sadly, though, we recently had a tremendous spike in deaths on Colorado roads. In 2016, CDOT reported:
Preliminary data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) indicates that traffic fatalities have risen by 24 percent since 2014. In 2016, there were 605 traffic fatalities in Colorado, compared to 547 fatalities in 2015.
A 2017 Denver Post article reported that distracted driving was causing 40 crashes per day in Colorado.
Our growing population is certainly a contributing factor, but I have a few more theories (backed up by facts and data).
Distracted Driving in Colorado
I’m not going to mince words: distracted driving is killing people in Colorado. A 2017 Denver Post article reported that distracted driving was causing 40 crashes per day in Colorado. Per day! Not all of them are fatal, of course, but each and every one of them makes me angry.
I have represented victims of distracted driving accidents and their plights anger me nearly as much as victims of DUI accidents. Drivers who take their eyes off the road are basically turning their cars into speeding bullets, just looking for victims. The article included this quote:
“I think people don’t understand the real danger when they take their eyes off the road,” CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said. “We know that an accident happens in an instant and unless you’re ready to respond, it could have tragic consequences. If you’re going 65, 70 miles per hour and take your eyes off the road to read a message, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of a football field and a lot can happen in that time.”
If you think you know how to text and drive safely, watch this video. In a closed driving course, AAA challenges three drivers to read and send texts while driving. All of them failed. If each of those cones that they hit were pedestrians, they likely would have tragically injured someone or killed them.
I am personally working hard to make Colorado’s roads safer. I threw my voice behind proposed state legislation that would have required hands-free technologies while driving. While it did not pass out of committee the first time around, we will continue pushing for this law. If you saw the number of Denver accident victims that I do on a daily and annual basis, you would champion this law, too. We have got to stop distracted driving in Colorado!
Other Ways to Prevent Accident Deaths in Colorado
Distracted driving isn’t the only cause of fatalities on Colorado’s roads. You may be surprised to know that some people still refuse to wear seat belts! CDOT reports that “Unbelted occupants are over-represented in the fatality data and accounted for half of the passenger vehicle fatalities in 2016.”
If everyone simply buckled up, we could save over 60 lives per year! Can you imagine if you got a call from Denver Police one day informing you that someone you love had died in a car accident because he or she wasn’t wearing a seat belt? How angry would you be? Now, imagine that you’re the one who has died and your loved ones are left to grapple with your death due to your choice not to wear a seatbelt. How can you justify that choice?
There’s one more safe driving habit that I want you to practice on Colorado’s roads this spring: Look Twice. I represent injured motorcyclists all the time who were hit by drivers who say, “I didn’t see him!” Usually, these drivers made a left-hand turn in front of oncoming traffic, not having seen the oncoming biker. The biker slams into the car, usually resulting in catastrophic injuries, and there’s nothing that biker could have done to prevent the accident. The driver is at fault and will be paying financially and emotionally for that accident for a long time… but not as long as the biker, obviously.
This spring, I implore you to “Look Twice and Save a Life.”
It is going to take all of us to make Colorado’s roads safer.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
~Margaret Atwood, “Bluebeard’s Egg”
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month
According to 2016 statistics, the National Safety Council estimates as many as 40,000 people died on U.S. roadways. That’s a 6% increase over 2015 statistics and 14% over 2014. The NDC says that’s the most dramatic two-year increase in 53 years.
Why such a startling increase in deaths on our roads? Two words: distracted driving.
Of course, not all of those deaths were caused by distracted driving, but the percentage of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving is unequivocally on the rise. In 2015 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
Alarmingly, the NHTSA also reports that, during daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving! And teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
Our children and our loved ones are dying on the roads due to a 100% preventable cause! This should be unacceptable to each and every one of us. I am working hard to make Colorado roads safer by trying to pass hands-free technology laws. I encourage you to reach out to your legislators and ask them to support and pass laws that will make our roads safer. And use #DistractedDrivingAwarenessMonth on your social pages throughout April to raise awareness.
Talk to your family and children about the tragic impact of distracted driving. Model good behavior in your own car and teach your children to speak up when they’re riding with someone who is distracted. We simply must prevent the senseless deaths caused by distracted driving.