Denver Traffic Deaths on Pace for One of the Highest Totals This Century

A photo from a multi-car pileup on Interstate 25 in March 2014 that killed one and injured thirty.
A photo from a multi-car pileup on Interstate 25 in March 2014 that killed one and injured thirty. Photo by Lori Midson
Editor's note: This post is the fourth in our series about Denver traffic. Click to read our previous items, "Denver's Longest Traffic Signal and Wait Times on Major Routes," "Denver's Fight to Prevent Total Traffic Gridlock Downtown" and "Denver's Ten Most Dangerous Intersections."

With just days to go before 2018 reaches its halfway mark, traffic fatalities in Denver are on pace for one of the highest numbers this century.

According to Denver Police Department data, 29 people have died in Mile High City crashes so far this year. If fatalities in Denver take place at the same rate during the second half of 2018, the total will be 58 — just under the 61 fatalities calculated by the DPD in 2016 and equal to the number of deaths recorded in 2015. Moreover, it will be higher than the fatality figure for any other year prior to 2005.

The scope of the problem is detailed by the folks behind the impressive new Denver Accident Map, which is accessible at the website for the O'Sullivan Law Firm, a Denver practice that specializes in personal injury, with a focus on motorcycle, bicycle and pedestrian accidents. The utility, which draws from Denver Police Department reports and automatically updates every 24 hours, was the brainstorm of firm principal Scott O'Sullivan and his brother-in-law, Andrew Russette, whom he describes admiringly as "a bit of a super data nerd."

Last summer, O'Sullivan says, he and Russette "were talking about all these horrible motorcycle and bicycle crashes that I work on. He's an engineer who does work for DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], the Defense Department's civil side, and he's able to crunch huge amounts of data in a simplified way."

Russette's skill at making complex information easy to access was put to the test with the Denver Accident Map. The DPD puts out scads of data about traffic accidents and the like on a daily basis — something that O'Sullivan feels is worthy of praise. However, these facts and figures are fed into massive files that are damnably difficult to navigate — "so Andrew said, 'I think I can create a tool that will make this usable in an open way on Google Maps,'" he recalls. "And after we did our first modeling, the information we got was shocking, horribly disturbing."

click to enlarge A photo from the scene of a fatal July 4, 2013, crash in Grand Lake. - 9NEWS FILE PHOTO
A photo from the scene of a fatal July 4, 2013, crash in Grand Lake.
9News file photo
O'Sullivan offers a handful of examples from May. He notes that "there were 55 accidents involving DUI/DUID during the month. Wednesdays saw the most accidents, with 237 on that day in May. And 5 p.m. was the most dangerous time to drive, with 123 accidents occurring in that hour."

The capper for O'Sullivan: "There were seven fatalities, making it the deadliest May since 2012."

June has already surpassed that number with eight fatalities, and the month isn't over yet. Moreover, the 29 fatalities in 2018 to date are indicative of a trend that's been moving in the wrong direction, as is clear from annual traffic death figures provided by the DPD. The totals range from 56 to a shocking 85 between 2000 and 2005 before sliding to somewhat lower levels. But beginning in 2014, the numbers began to climb again, and 2018 hardly breaks that trend.

Nor does Vision Zero, an initiative Mayor Michael Hancock launched in 2015 that aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Here's a breakdown of fatalities per year since 2000:

2000 — 85

2001 — 66

2002 — 67

2003 — 56

2004 — 68

2005 — 64

2006 — 41

2007 — 43

2008 — 55

2009 — 40

2010 — 42

2011 — 41

2012 — 40

2013 — 47

2014 — 50

2015 — 58

2016 — 61

2017 — 51

2018 — 29 to date
The Denver Accident Map includes data that goes back to 2012, and as you'll see, the figures often aren't identical to those provided by the Denver Police Department, even though they're drawn from the same source. Via email, Russette explains some of the possible reasons for that: "From the few email exchanges I have had with the Denver team, I get the sense that they work very hard to get the most accurate data possible into this catalog. That being said, I can tell you from working with many other cities' data sets that sometimes the numbers don't always line up perfectly with what other departments have recorded. This seems to be a common issue in many states and cities. I suspect that this is due to restrictions on which records can be reported in the open data catalogs and the way in which the records are stored."

For example, he continues, "with the Denver Open Data Catalog data set, if a traffic accident involves a fatality, it is recorded as a single record regardless of how many individual fatalities are involved. Whereas in Washington, D.C., each fatality is recorded as a count for the same incident."

Nonetheless, the Denver Accident Map information shared below essentially echoes the trend line since the dawn of the century as presented by the DPD — and 2018 is heading in an even more tragic direction.

For O'Sullivan, sharing this kind of information is his way of increasing awareness of the dangers on Denver streets in the hope that the number of accidents will come down.

"Our clients are so devastatingly injured in these types of collisions," he says. "And somehow, we have to make it stop. It's just too much."

Continue for the Denver Accident Map's calculation of traffic accidents with fatalities from 2012 to the present by both individual month and year.
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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