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Traffic Myths Debunked: The Real Reasons Behind Colorado’s Car Accident Fatality Rate

The real reason behind Denver's car accident fatality rate

When it comes to Denver car accident fatalities, everyone seems to be pointing fingers. Journalists blame the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), while the CDOT places the blame on drivers.

The CDOT insists that education is the key to lowering fatalities as they encourage people to not drive distracted, drunk, or fast. Others demand improvements to Denver roads, like decreasing lane width, increasing lanes on highways, and adding paint, posts, and pedestrian islands at dangerous intersections.

Regardless of blame, the facts remain: fatal crashes involving motor vehicles in Colorado have increased 30.1% since 2014, with a 12% increase in pedestrian deaths from 2016 to 2017. When it comes to Colorado’s car accident fatalities, what is fact, and what is fiction? Here, we look at the data and see what traffic myths we can debunk about car accident fatalities in Colorado.

What We Know About Colorado Traffic Fatalities

The numbers speak for themselves.

    1. Traffic deaths in Colorado reached the highest number in 2017 and have been steadily increasing over the last few years while there is a general downward trend over the past decade nationally.
    2. The majority of car accident fatalities in Colorado occur in urban areas, but nationally, car accidents are more likely to take place in rural areas.
    3. In Colorado, the average amount of miles traveled in relation to car accident rates is low. In states with the highest car accident fatalities, more miles are traveled in relation to fatal accidents.
    4. Colorado’s DUI rates are high – 85% of fatal car accidents involve drivers under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. This is higher than the five states with the highest car accident fatalities.
    5. Colorado’s growth rate is higher than most states at 1.37%, but the CDOT reports that “the [car accident fatality] numbers are too high to be solely attributed to population growth.”
    6. Compared to other states, Colorado drivers do not spend the most amount of time on their phones while driving.
    7. Seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and the District of Columbia legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 and reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017 versus the first six months of 2016.
    8. Colorado is ranked 28th out of the 50 states for the number of pedestrian fatalities and are ranked 27th for the rate of pedestrian fatalities.
    9. In Colorado, 29% of pedestrian fatalities take place at intersections.
    10. Around 1 out of 3 car accidents in Colorado involved speeding.

    Which Myths Can We Debunk?

    texting and driving infographicMyth #1: Texting and driving is a significant factor in Colorado’s car accident fatalities.

    We can agree that texting and driving isn’t significant enough to account for Colorado’s dramatic increase in fatalities as compared to the national decrease. Although cell phone usage is up nationally, motor vehicle accident fatalities are down nationally.

    Myth #2: Education is the answer.

    In Colorado, motor vehicle accident fatalities occur in urban areas 58% of the time, so cities are clearly the problematic areas. This also makes sense that drivers travel fewer miles before getting into accidents. Car accidents in rural areas are low, which insinuates that education is not the answer since the accidents are not dispersed throughout the state of Colorado like they are in other states. Additionally, no supporting evidence exists for the effectiveness of education.

    Myth #3: Colorado’s growth rate is responsible for the increase in fatalities.

    According to the CDOT, Colorado’s growth rate does not entirely account for the increase in fatalities.

    Myth #4: Drunk driving isn’t a significant enough factor.

    car accident fatalities pie chartIt’s undeniable: driving under the influence is a huge factor in car accident fatalities in Colorado. Alcohol was involved in 85% of car accident fatalities, which is higher than the national average. In fact, only 8 states had a higher rate of accidents involving drunk driving.

    It is worth noting that nationally, pedestrian fatal accidents involved a pedestrian with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, while an estimated 13% of drivers involved in these crashes had a BAC of 0.08. So, both pedestrians and drivers contributed to the fatality rate.

    Myth #5: The legalization of marijuana doesn’t affect fatality rates.

    Marijuana also had a major role to play. The states that legalized marijuana saw a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities.car accident fatalities bar graph

    Myth #6: Colorado’s infrastructure isn’t a problem.

    Despite how the Colorado Department of Transportation displaces the blame, Colorado’s transportation infrastructure clearly is a problem.

    Why else would:

    1. There be $1.65 billion in funding dedicated to improving Denver’s transportation systems (with $350 million to go)?
    2. The CDOT be pursuing a deal with private partners increasing lanes on I-70 for $2.2 billion dollars?
    3. Additional toll lanes likely to be implemented on I-25?

    What We, and the City, Can Do

    The City

    The city of Denver is taking action. You can read more about the city’s plans here and here. The focus of these plans involve the highway improvements mentioned above, but also leveraging public transportation and ease of mobility for pedestrians walking or riding bikes.

  1. denver funds infographicYou

    It is the city’s goals to eradicate all traffic deaths by 2030. You can help.

    1. Don’t drive under the influence. This is clearly a problem on Colorado roads.
    2. Slow down. Remember, 1 out of 3 car accidents in Colorado involved speeding.
    3. Always watch for pedestrians.
    4. Don’t text and drive.
    5. Advocate for change. Help fund the city’s plans to improve Denver roads, encourage others to do the same, and hold the CDOT accountable.




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