DENVER – We’re just 31-days into 2018, and already 35 people have died on our roadways.
New numbers out by the Colorado Department of Transportation show 2017 was not a good year for freeway fatalities either.
Department spokesperson, Sam Cole attributed the growth in traffic deaths to risky behavior behind the wheel.
“In 2017, almost two deaths every single day on our roadways,” Cole said.
He described distracted driving, impaired driving, and the lack of seatbelt use as contributing factors.
Cole said what’s most alarming of the 2017 data is that the department found traffic deaths have spiked 29% since 2014.
In 2017, 630 people were killed on Colorado roads-- that brought a 4% uptick from 2016.
Cole added, more than 100-thousand crashes happen on the state’s roadways each year.
“Your odds of being in a crash this year, just this year alone, is 1-in-33,” he said.
However, Cole acknowledged it is really more than just the numbers, “This devastates families, this devastates communities, and we've seen how it really does tear families apart.”
For one, the Ramirez family.
“They're very humble, very modest, very warm,” Jackie Jeske said. She’s a family friend of the Ramirez’s.
The family of four were driving along I-25, near 58th Avenue on Saturday night when they were hit head-on by a suspected drunk driver.
Miguel Ramirez and his 17-year-old son, Michael, were killed. Maria Ramirez, mother, remains in critical condition, and Salma Ramirez, daughter, is now left picking up the pieces.
“They picked Maria up from work, and they were going home,” Jeske told Denver7 in an exclusive sit down interview.
“When you add an element of impaired driving, and the darkness, and the confusion around signage perhaps… Then that could be a recipe for disaster,” Cole added.
It's those tragic disasters that CDOT is taking seriously — so much so, that it is involving its top engineers to determine what needs to be done to potentially make Colorado roads and highways safer.
However, safer streets will very little, Cole said, if people don’t adhere to a basic driving lesson and buckling up.
“The best thing you can do to protect yourself from a distracted driver out there, a drunk driver, is to always fasten that seatbelt,” he added.
In a release, CDOT Executive director Michael Lewis said 16% of Coloradans do not buckle up. According to Lewis, the state ranks 36th in the country in seat belt use.
The department’s studies found there were 211 unbelted deaths in passenger vehicle crashes last year.
Those deaths accounted for half of the 399 passenger vehicle fatalities in 2017.
Some might assume the increase in traffic deaths is reflected in the state’s population growth, but Cole said that would be incorrect.
“Fatalities actually are increasing at a much higher rate than our population,” he explained, “So, it has a lot more to do than just with population growth in Colorado. It has a lot to do with the rise in risky behaviors that people partake in on our roadways.”
The one area that did see improvement was in the number of motorcycle crashes. Motorcyclists deaths dropped by 20% to 101 in 2017, down from a record 125 deaths in 2016.
The preliminary data from CDOT shows the following:
- 2017 fatalities: 630 (2015 – 547; 2016 – 608)
- Highest counties: El Paso (76); Adams (64), Weld (62), Denver (46)
- Motorcyclist fatalities: 101, a 20% decrease from 2016 (125)
- Alcohol/Drug related fatalities: 232, a 16% increase from 2016 (197)
- Unbelted fatalities: 211, a 14% increase from 2016 (182)
- Pedestrian fatalities: 93, a 11% increase from 2016 (84)
- Construction zone fatalities: 15, a 114% increase from 2016 (7)
- Saving Lives
- 25 lives could be saved annually with 100% helmet use among motorcyclists (NHTSA)
- 58 lives could be saved annually with 100% seat belt use among passenger vehicle occupants (NHTSA)