Colorado Traffic Fatalities Surge in 2015

January 19, 2016 - Traffic Safety - CDOT Doubles Down on Outreach to Drivers.

STATEWIDE — Preliminary data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) indicates that traffic fatalities rose by 10% in 2015. In 2015 there were 545 traffic fatalities in Colorado, compared to the 488 fatalities in 2014. 

“Every fatality is one too many, which is why we are doubling down on our traffic safety outreach in 2016,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director.  “For example, we know that at least 60 lives could be saved if everyone wore their seat belts. Therefore, we will be doing additional outreach to increase the seat belt usage in Colorado.”  Unbelted drivers are over-represented in the fatality data and accounted for almost half of the fatalities in 2015.  The data also indicates that motorcycle fatalities hit an all-time record high of 104 deaths.  CDOT will spend $300,000 in FY2016 on  motorcycle safety campaigns targeting both drivers and motorcycle riders.

The last time fatalities registered over 500 was in 2008 when 548 deaths were recorded.  With 3.8 million licensed drivers in Colorado, there is a 1 in 7,000 chance a driver will be among the fatalities in 2016 if current trends continue, says CDOT. A majority of fatalities are due to risky behaviors, such as not using a seat belt, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, speeding, driving impaired, or driving distracted.

“There are several possible reasons for the uptick, such as people are driving more due to low gas prices.  Whatever the reason, the new data is troubling and represents a call to action for all our traffic safety partners in Colorado,” said Bhatt.

"Fatal crashes are a tragic ending for hundreds of people in Colorado each year." said Scott Hernandez, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol.  "These crashes are absolutely preventable.  We encourage drivers to make good decisions and avoid distractions while driving.  Kick off the new year by buckling up, dropping the distractions, and focusing on driving."  

The preliminary data from CDOT shows the following:

  • 2015 fatalities: 545
    • Motorcycles: 104 (record high, up from 94 in 2014)
    • Highest counties: Jefferson (56), Weld (55), Denver (49), El Paso (44)
    • Alcohol related: 32%
  • 2015 unrestrained fatalities
    • 49% of all passenger vehicle fatalities (363) were unrestrained (179)
    • 15% of people in Colorado do not wear their seat belts. Those individuals account for almost half of our fatalities
    • NHTSA estimates that over 60 people could be saved if 100% buckled up
  • 2014 fatalities: 488
    • Change from 2015: +10%
  • The last time fatalities registered over 500 was in 2008 when 548 deaths were recorded.
  • Troubling since 2002 to 2014 fatalities dropped 34% (26% decrease 2002 to 2015).
  • Recent years have seen a slight increase – but not as big as the increase in 2015.

In FY2016 CDOT awarded $3.5 million to non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and local government agencies to conduct programs aimed at reducing crashes.  Many of these programs address alcohol-related crashes, which account for about one-third of fatalities in Colorado.  

In 2015 CDOT released the state’s new Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which provides innovative and data-driven approaches to improving highway safety.  Moving Colorado Towards Zero Deaths is a core value of the plan. To demonstrate and measure progress, the new vision sets realistic interim goals, including reducing fatalities to 416 by 2019. 

The rise in fatalities for 2015 is part of a national trend. In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that the first six months of 2015 showed a troubling increase in the number of fatalities. The 2015 fatality estimate was up 8.1 percent from the same period last year.  NHTSA said the estimate represents a troubling departure from a general downward trend in previous years.  

From 2002 to 2014, traffic-related fatalities in Colorado dropped 34 percent.  The most recent data from 2015 reduces that decline to 26 percent. The overall decline was achieved despite the continued growth in the state with new residents, businesses, and visitors joining the millions that travel Colorado roads and highways each year. 

Preliminary data for 2015 is available from CDOT at:

The final data for 2014, including county specific data, is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at: