In the ambitious quest to end traffic fatalities, Colorado has seen numerous setbacks, with 2016 as a remarkably bad year for road deaths. It turns out that 2017 was even worse. We closed out the year with 642 road deaths – a 5.5 percent increase from 2016, and the highest number of traffic deaths in over a decade.

This alarming spike came even as fatalities decreased nationwide. According to the National Safety Council, around 40,000 people were killed in auto accidents across the U.S., a one-percent decrease from 2016. The overall death rate per miles traveled was down two percent from 2016.

What’s behind the numbers?

Why the increase in Colorado traffic deaths? There aren’t easy answers, and it will likely take months to fully analyze the data. Initially, however, the Colorado Department of Transportation has suggested that the following factors may have contributed:

  • Impaired driving (including driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs)
  • Lack of seatbelt use

As in past years, other common culprits include:

  • Distracted driving, especially texting and cellphone use behind the wheel
  • Teen drivers who lack the experience and judgment to make the split-second decisions that can mean life or death in traffic situations

Although winter weather and poor road conditions contributed to some of the fatalities, the summer months were actually the worst for traffic deaths. June and July saw 72 and 67 deaths respectively. These spikes are likely due, in part, to an influx of people on the roads for summer travel as well as increased social drinking and recreational drug use during vacation.

The outlook for 2018

It’s too soon to predict whether this year will continue the grim trend of rising traffic deaths. Sixty people have been killed so far on Colorado roads in January and February, with nearly one-third of those cases involving impaired driving.

The data is a vivid reminder of the role we all play in keeping roads safe. By making responsible choices behind the wheel – and making distraction-free driving a priority – you can reduce your own chances of becoming a statistic.

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