Colorado Traffic Fatalities up 24 Percent in Two Years

Motorcycle deaths hit all-time record

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.

"Colorado is growing, but that doesn't mean traffic fatalities must grow too," said CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt. "A lot can be done to mitigate the increase; for example, if everyone buckled up we could save over 60 lives per year."

Seat Belt Use

CDOT's 2017 seat belt safety campaign will launch in March with the goal of increasing the seat belt use rate beyond the current 84 percent. Unbelted occupants are over-represented in the fatality data and accounted for half of the passenger vehicle fatalities in 2016.

The last time fatalities registered over 600 was in 2005, when 606 deaths were recorded. With 3.8 million licensed drivers in Colorado, one in every 33 Colorado drivers will be in a crash this year. Just about every fatal crash is due to risky behaviors, such as not using a seat belt, speeding, driving impaired, or driving distracted.

Odds of surviving a crash improve immensely if motorists buckle up, watch their speed, avoid mixing driving with drugs or alcohol, and stay off their phones.


The data also indicates that motorcycle fatalities hit an all-time record high of 125 deaths in 2016. Most of these motorcyclists were not wearing helmets. This is a 50 percent increase from 2012, when 79 deaths were recorded. CDOT will spend $390,000 in fiscal year 2017 on motorcycle safety campaigns targeting both drivers and motorcycle riders.

"There are several possible reasons for the uptick, such as more people on Colorado's roadways," Bhatt said. "The new data is troubling and represents a call to action for all our traffic safety partners in Colorado because the loss of even one life is one too many."

"Fatal crashes continue to be a tragic ending for hundreds of people in Colorado each year," said Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez. "Every life matters. They matter to me, my troopers and the families suffering from these preventable tragedies. We encourage drivers to make good decisions, avoid distractions, and drive sober. Kick off the new year by buckling up, dropping the distractions and focusing on driving."

Preliminary CDOT data shows the following:

  • 2016 fatalities: 605
    (2015 – 547; 2015 – 488)
    • Motorcycles: 125
    • Highest counties: Adams (60), Weld (56), Denver (54), El Paso (46)
    • Alcohol related: 33 percent, or 196

  • 2016 unrestrained fatalities
    • 49 percent of all passenger vehicle fatalities (380) were unrestrained (186).
    • 16 percent of people in Colorado do not wear their seat belts. Those individuals account for almost half of passenger vehicle fatalities.
    • The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) estimates that over 60 people could be saved if 100 percent buckled up.
      • The last time fatalities registered over 600 was in 2005, when 606 deaths were recorded.
      • From 2002 to 2014, fatalities dropped 34 percent.
      • The most vulnerable road users are at particular risk.
        • Motorcycle fatalities: (125) up 50 percent since 2012 (79) and 18 percent since 2015 (105).
          • Most were not wearing a helmet.
        • 25 lives could be saved each year if 100 percent used a helment.
        • Pedestrian fatalities (84) went up 30 percent from 2015 (65).

What CDOT is Doing

In fiscal year 2017, CDOT awarded $3.5 million to nonprofit 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.

CDOT also dedicates $100 million in funding to dedicated safety construction projects to fix crash patterns on Colorado's road system. For example, data from the first year of use at the new diverging diamond interchange at U.S. 36 and McCaslin Boulevard shows that crashes have been reduced by 36 percent, and there have been zero injury crashes.

Many other projects are aimed at protecting pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. Community-involved studies of roadways are helping to determine strategies to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists—such as bike highways, slower speeds, town entry features, narrower lanes, bike lanes, parking and pedestrian crossings/signs/beacons. These projects are taking place in Kremmling, Buena Vista, Salida, Woodland Park and other places.

The rise in fatalities is part of a national trend. Fatalities are up nationally by about 8 percent.

From 2002 to 2014, traffic-related fatalities in Colorado dropped 34 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.

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