Colorado reported 745 traffic deaths last year, the highest death toll in the state since 1981, according to preliminary data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The deaths marked a 57% increase from 10 years ago, and included a record number of pedestrians and motorcyclists, officials said. Nearly 4 in 10 deadly crashes across the state involved impaired drivers.
The new data was released Monday as top public safety officials announced a campaign meant to make roads safer, partly by curbing dangerous practices like driving while impaired or distracted by smartphones, and partly by focusing on engineering improvements.
“The way we solve this problem is by bringing it to the forefront,” said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “At 750 lives, that’s a lot of reasons to have this conversation.”
CDOT is launching the Advancing Transportation Safety Program, which coordinates public safety campaigns to target speeding and reckless driving, focuses on making roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and addresses traffic engineering improvements meant to reduce congestion and save lives. Traffic accidents are disproportionately higher in rural areas, where CDOT plans to focus more of its resources in road improvement projects. The program also aims to reduce ambulance response times, and to play a role in more quickly clearing roads and restoring the flow of traffic after crashes.
The state wants to make long-term improvements to road safety through partnerships with federal and state governments, law enforcement, academic institutions and more, he said.
“The goal is lofty,” CDOT Deputy Chief Engineer Keith Stefanik said. “We’re trying to change the traffic safety culture in Colorado and eventually reach zero fatalities.”
Population growth does not account for the increase in Colorado’s traffic fatalities, according to Stefanik.
A total of 681 fatal accidents occurred last year, and 37% were caused by impaired driving, CDOT data shows. Alcohol was the most common cause of impairment. The number of crashes involving cannabis increased 51% from 2021 to 2022, according to Packard. He said that law enforcement officials plan to scale up their presence on Colorado’s roads moving forward.
Thirty-six percent of traffic deaths last year were individuals outside of cars, CDOT reported. This accounts for 147 motorcyclists, 109 pedestrians, and 12 bicyclists—19.7%, 14.6%, and 1.6% of deaths, respectively.
The number of impaired driving deaths increased to 278, a 6% increase from 2021 — and a 60% rise since 2019.
Adams County had the highest number of fatalities involving an impaired driver, 35, followed by El Paso and Denver, each at 21.
Seat belts were worn in 87% of deadly crashes, lagging the national average of 90%. The majority of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were unbuckled, officials said.
Reducing deaths on the roads will take not only the efforts of authorities but the partnership of all Coloradans, said Electra Bustle, senior director of the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles. Drivers need to understand the gravity of what’s at stake when they’re behind the wheel, she said, and make a conscious effort to participate in traffic safety.
“We have to change this trajectory,” Bustle said. “And at the end of the day it’s a shared responsibility to do the right thing for our roads.”