Colorado lost 745 lives to traffic accidents in 2022, the most since 1981. This represents a 57% increase since 2012 and has been the deadliest year in terms of fatal car accidents in decades. What’s more is that this is not proportional to population increases in Colorado, implicating an increase in risk factors that have led to increased fatalities.
To a wrongful death attorney in Denver, these numbers may mean business but to everyone else, it is a tragedy. However, the first step in combatting this epidemic is understanding it. Here we break down the leading causes of vehicle deaths and who they most affect.
Deaths Among All Groups Were Up Across The Board
Almost ubiquitously, deaths among all groups were up across the board. Part of this does have to do with the increasing population of Colorado as more and more people move there each year. Indeed, this is partly supported by the locations hardest hit by motor vehicle deaths. Among all locations, urban centers and areas with high-density populations experienced the most deaths.
However, according to Chief Engineer Keith Stefanik of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the increase in motor vehicle deaths has not increased in correlation to Colorado’s population growth, placing the blame on an increase in numerous bad driving behaviors. Given the rest of the data, it is hard to disagree as impaired driving deaths and deaths due to negligent driving are on a steady increase.
There is one surprising caveat to this data. Motor vehicle deaths involving bicyclists went down. Even more surprising, deaths in construction zones, despite their widespread propagation in urban centers, stayed consistent in 2022 from 2021.
Over A Third Of All Deaths Were Outside A Vehicle
36% of all motor vehicle deaths in 2022 were outside a vehicle, these include pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. They represent the most vulnerable population, those that are most at risk of severe injury or death when struck by motorists. The number of motorcycle and pedestrian deaths is the most on record since 1975.
Among these, motorcyclists represented the majority of deaths among persons outside of a vehicle. Unfortunately, less than half of those killed wore helmets at the time of their deaths. Given a higher proportion of motorcyclists wear helmets than those who do not, it stands to reason that helmets substantially reduce the risk of death.
This assertion is supported by similar findings among passenger vehicle deaths, which account for the majority of motor vehicle deaths in 2022. Among those, nearly half were from individuals who were not wearing safety restraints, despite Colorado holding constant at around 87% seat belt usage.
Mass Transit Remains The Safest Form Of Transportation
Once again, mass transit remains the safest method of transportation. This is supported across all demographics and regions, with deaths from mass transit vehicles forming an extremely low proportion. With this finding, more initiatives to expand public transportation are already being sought.
CDOT, in part funded by federal stimulus funding, has already been attempting to expand its interregional and intercity Bustang bus service, while additional resources have been pledged to evaluate front-range passenger rails.
Impaired Deaths Are Up By 6%
Compare to 2021, deaths caused by impaired driving have been up 6% to a total of 278, continuing a disturbing trend of increased impaired driving deaths over the past decade. Since 2019, this is a 60% overall increase.
Alcohol remains the highest overall incidence of impaired driving, though THC levels higher than the legal limit has been on a steady increase. Even more worryingly, mixed substances have also been found in higher quantities, the most common combination of which being THC and alcohol. Adams, El Paso, and Denver counties are the hardest hit by the increase in impaired driving deaths.
Rural Areas Have A Disproportionately Higher Rate Of Fatalities
Rural areas, despite their lack of population density compared to urban areas, have a much higher proportion of crash fatalities relative to the number of vehicle accidents. The reason for this is multifaceted. For one, rural roads are less likely to be repaired, creating a higher likelihood of bad road conditions that cause crashes.
Additionally, rural areas often suffer from a lack of trauma centers near the crash, meaning that those in an accident in rural areas are less likely to receive life-saving medical care in time. This largely accounts for the disproportionately higher death rates in rural areas, and further emphasizes the need for preemptive incident management.
While the problems plaguing Colorado’s roadways are many, there are as many solutions. CDOT has already set in motion many of them, including increased funding to expand mass transit services and increasing the amount of road construction projects in rural areas to improve road conditions there.
For pedestrians and bicyclists, engineered solutions can be prepared. The CDOT has already been funding projects promoting physical activity and economic empowerment that have mostly been centered around providing additional access to roads for pedestrians and bicyclists. These efforts have mostly been centered around heavily trafficked main streets, where the danger to pedestrians and cyclists is greatest.
Another big push by CDOT centers around increasing law enforcement on the roads to ensure traffic and safety laws are being followed. Coinciding with efforts to improve post-crash care by creating more efficient pathways for medical personnel to arrive on-site, both of these efforts can improve survivability among crash victims and drive the ever-increasing crash fatality rates down.
With these actions in progress, Colorado is on a good pathway to driving down fatalities. However, Colorado is still well short of its goal to cut fatalities down by 15% by 2023. If we are to reach this goal, it will take a more concerted effort to beat these negative factors and truly combat the causes of fatal motor vehicle accidents.