Distracted Driving Awareness Month: The latest data and resources from CDOT

Shift into Safe News

Whether it’s adjusting the radio, answering a text message, or grabbing a quick bite, these seemingly harmless acts can be deadly on the road. April marks Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is urging every Coloradan to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. 

According to CDOT’s Problem Identification Report, distracted driving was the third leading cause of traffic crashes in 2021, and from 2012 to 2022, 718 Coloradans lost their lives in a distracted driving crash. Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) estimates that the nationwide 23% increase in distracted driving since 2020 has led to an additional 420,000 crashes and 1,000 fatalities.

“The consequences of distracted driving can be fatal, and we are counting on Coloradans behind the wheel to be aware of our roads at all times,” said CDOT’s Office of Transportation Safety Director Darrell Lingk. “Resist temptations like checking your phone or eating while driving. Whatever it is, it can wait until you have reached your destination.”

A CDOT data graph that shows the number of fatalities involving a distracted driver from 2012-2022. The total fatality numbers by year are: 79 in 2012, 73 in 2013, 58 in 2014, 69 in 2015, 67 in 2016, 70 in 2017, 54 in 2018, 39 in 2019, 68 in 2020, 72 in 2021, 69 in 2022.

CDOT’s 2023 Driver Behavior Survey found that 76% of Colorado drivers reported using their phone (hands-free or handheld) while driving. This number is up from 67% in 2022. Of this group, 45% reported using a hand-held phone while driving over the last seven days. In addition to cell phone use, drivers reported doing a range of distracting activities behind the wheel, including eating and selecting entertainment. The survey also found that drivers who engaged in distracting behaviors also were more likely to speed or not wear a seat belt while driving.

To encourage people to buckle up, the Click It or Ticket statewide seat belt enforcement period began on April 1, the same day as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

"It only takes a split second for something to go wrong when you're distracted behind the wheel," said Col. Matthew C. Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. "Troopers see an uptick of crashes due to inattentive driving during rush hours when people are tempted by distraction. Your commute may be routine, but this is also a congested time on the road and you can't predict other motorists, pedestrians or road hazards - drive with focus!"

Last year, CDOT launched its latest Shift into Safe video, which featured distracted driving crash victim, Triny Willerton. The video uses mathematics and on-screen graphics to create a simulation, showing how a driver opening a fast food sandwich while driving can take their eyes off the road for three seconds, which is long enough to miss 20 cyclists on the road. Willerton was riding her bike when a distracted driver hit her.  To watch all of CDOT’s Shift into Safe videos, available in English and Spanish, click here.

In CDOT's awareness campaign, Triny Willerton, a survivor of a distracted driving crash, sits on her bike, holding a photo of her using a walker in the hospital after she was struck by a distracted driver. Text on image reads: Driving distracted for just 3 seconds? You almost killed me. Shift into Safe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 of the people who were killed by distracted drivers were not in a vehicle — they were walking, riding their bikes, or otherwise outside a vehicle. Pedestrian fatalities are at an all-time high in Colorado, with 136 deaths last year. Bicycle deaths are up 33%. Indeed, distracted drivers pose a particular risk to our most vulnerable roadway users.

Texting and driving is illegal for drivers of all ages in Colorado. Adult drivers may use their cell phones for voice calls, but are prohibited from sending a text message. Drivers younger than 18 years old are prohibited from using a cell phone for any purpose and can be fined and/or risk losing their license. Exceptions include emergency situations only. Drivers aged 20-39 are more likely to be involved in fatal and injury distracted driving crashes (CSP).

To address distracted driving, Colorado lawmakers have proposed Senate Bill 65 to prohibit cell phone use while driving for all ages unless the individual is using a hands-free accessory. CDOT and CSP are supportive of SB23-65 and are hopeful the legislature will bring Colorado in line with the 27 other states with hands-free laws.

To better educate the public about the risks of distracted driving, CDOT’s website provides additional resources and has produced new PSA videos, which you can find at codot.gov/safety/distracteddriving.