Why the Next 100 Days Are the Year's Deadliest on Colorado Roads

The truck driven by Jeffery Stumpf in a July 2017 accident on I-70 that led to two deaths, including his, and six injuries.
The truck driven by Jeffery Stumpf in a July 2017 accident on I-70 that led to two deaths, including his, and six injuries. File photo
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, more fatal accidents take place on Colorado roads between Memorial Day and Labor Day than during any other part of the year. And CDOT is determined to bring that number down.

"Fatalities in Colorado have spiked upwards of 20 percent over the past several years," notes traffic safety communications manager Sam Cole, referencing figures on view below. "That's why we need to increase our enforcement and our public awareness efforts to keep motorists safe on our roadways."

The deadliness of summer driving in Colorado may seem counterintuitive, since many of us see icy or snow-slicked highways and byways as the greatest dangers for those behind the wheel. But such conditions are superseded in terms of risk by two main factors: unsafe actions and sheer volume.

"We know that 94 percent of crashes on our roadways are related to somebody's behavior, whether it be speeding or impaired driving or distracted driving," Cole says. "Even not wearing a seat belt can greatly increase injuries or deaths. Those are the kinds of things we see driving up the fatalities we see on our roadways during the summer. But we also see more vehicles on the road this time of year," including tourists who may not be familiar with mountain driving.

On top of that, he continues, "more teens are driving, because they're out of school — and they're over-represented in our fatality data because they're inexperienced. That's why we're going to be launching a campaign about the graduated driver's license laws. This would be a great time for parents to talk to teens about special laws and rules that apply to them, because the safety rules are much tougher for teens. And that conversation could save their life." He points out that teens aren't allowed to drive with any passengers other than family members for the first six months after they get their license, and just one friend for the subsequent six months — and there are additional mandates in regard to using a cell phone while driving and more. Click to access a brochure with details.

Another major fatality factor: the proliferation of motorcycles, which Cole describes as "our most vulnerable roadway users, because they have no crash protection like a standard passenger vehicle would. Motorcyclists are 3 percent of the vehicles on our roadways, but they represent almost 20 percent of the fatalities — and during the summer, we see a lot more motorcyclists, because that's when they like to ride."

In light of that, "we encourage motorcyclists to wear helmets and ride defensively," Cole goes on. "And we also encourage drivers of cars to always check twice when pulling out at an intersection — we see a lot of crashes happen at intersections when drivers don't see them while they're pulling onto the road — and to check their blind spots carefully, because motorcyclists can get lost in them." He suggests that riders take safety classes promoted by the Colorado State Patrol under the MOST (Motorcycle Operator Safety Training) banner, but stresses, "It's the responsibility of both motorcyclists and drivers to keep motorcyclists safe."

Those who don't proactively take such steps have increased odds that they'll run afoul of the law during the next few months. A recently concluded seat-belt enforcement campaign resulted in 6,000 tickets, Cole reveals, and another seat-belt-related safety effort is scheduled for July. Moreover, DUI enforcement actions over the recent Memorial Day weekend led to citations for 300 impaired drivers, and more will likely be ensnared by what assorted police agencies in the state have branded the "Summer Blitz." The program got under way on June 15 and will run through the deadly days to come.

One piece of good news, sort of: Cole says CDOT has found no correlation between traffic fatalities and construction projects such as the one along C-470, which has been under way for a year, and efforts like Central 70, I-25 North and I-25 South Gap that are expected to break ground soon. Why? Because the high speeds so frequently related to traffic tragedies are just about impossible under such circumstances. In Cole's words, "I guess one benefit of a really congested area of town is that people are driving more slowly, and when you do that, you're much more likely to survive a crash."

Not that he sees this as a long-term way to tackle the problems associated with the 100 deadliest days on Colorado's roads. "In the end, we'd like people to move along swiftly on our roadways," he insists, "but to also drive responsibly."

Visit CDOT's safety page for more tips. Continue to see Colorado fatality figures for the summers of 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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