Need an easy way to spike your heart rate? Grab your keys and take a drive down one of Colorado’s larger roads or highways.
The number of ways to make your blood boil are countless. Motorists texting while driving? Check. Motorists puttering about in the lefthand lane? Check. Motorists weaving dangerously in between traffic, driving too fast and cutting each other off? Check, check and check.
It’s well established that Colorado drivers have become increasingly problematic in recent years. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the state’s roadways saw a record 754 lives lost in 2022. For context, that’s a staggering 57% jump from 10 years prior, and 36% of the deaths occurred outside of a vehicle. In plainspeak, that means motorists hit and killed pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists in more than one-third of vehicle crashes.
The alarming trend of motorist-caused deaths is scary enough, yet there’s more. For every fatality, there’s an additional five serious injuries, highlighting that roadway collisions are taking a devastating toll on Colorado families.
Interestingly, a CDOT engineer emphasized that the rise in roadway deaths does not correlate with the state’s increasing population. This means anyone wanting to blame the people who moved to Colorado in recent years hasn’t got much of a leg to stand on. It turns out, this is a safety problem we all own, no matter how long we’ve lived here.
The impact of driver-caused injuries and deaths on non-motorists has been particularly relevant in recent news. In July, American cyclist and teenager Magnus White, age 17, was hit and killed by a motorist who irresponsibly drifted out of her lane. There were also multiple incidents of motorists killing pedestrians in crosswalks, including at least one hit and run.
Last week, the topic of dangerous driving resurfaced when state Sen. Faith Winter was reportedly almost struck by a motorist on her bike during her commute to the Capitol. According to a statement released by her team, the near-hit caused Winter to swerve and crash on a curb causing serious injuries. Winter has since undergone surgery to relieve pressure on her brain, and will remain in the hospital during recovery with a “good prognosis.”
Having commuted thousands of miles on Colorado roadways by bicycle or on foot over the years, it’s easy for me to appreciate how lucky I am that I haven’t been hit — at least not yet. Whether it’s encountering obstacles in bike lanes, being forced to share the road with irresponsible drivers or having to navigate poorly designed lanes and trails for bikes and walkers, I’ve had my own share of narrow misses by motorists. And no, it’s not because I haven’t followed the rules of the road; It’s because our cycling and pedestrian infrastructure isn’t nearly as robust as our infrastructure for cars, and we’ve created dangerous situations for those who do us all a favor and travel by human-power.
Addressing these infrastructure shortcomings will take substantially more than one-off solutions of ending right turns or red, lowering speed or adding buffers and green paint to bike lanes — although these are all good options in our tool kit that we should employ as appropriate, particularly at prominent intersections.
But given that the rate of car crashes hasn’t correlated with the increase in population, it seems that reducing dangerous driving likely requires addressing the underlying bad driving habits and attitudes.
In a society that’s increasingly selfish, entitled and road-ragey at large, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that the crash rate might be higher in part because drivers are translating these bad behaviors to the road. For example, has the idea of setting down our phones or controlling our impulse to rush become so unbearable that we’re willing to risk our safety and the safety of others not to feel immediate gratitude? If so, changing our infrastructure is only part of the problem, meaning we need a public health campaign to address the larger, more problematic societal trends to reduce dangerous driving.
For now, it seems the best answer is to continue modifying our current throughways with simple solutions such as above, because just as thoughts and prayers don’t work for gun deaths, they won’t stop bicycle deaths, either, so we’ve got to do something.
That said, we must simultaneously plan for a smarter transit future where human-powered modes of transportation are equally valued and become wholly separate from vehicle transit routes. There’s simply no sense moving forward to continue forcing a 5,000-pound SUV to share infrastructure with a cyclist or pedestrian. It’s just never going to end well.
But the larger trend of dangerous driving in Colorado still begs to be viewed through the lens of a public health crisis, because until all cars are self-driving, Coloradans need to be able to drive more safely or deaths will continue to rise. And who knows, with a little luck, perhaps a public campaign to curb the underlying causes of bad behaviors on the road would extend into other areas of society, such as reducing other forms of violence or finally holding selfish and angry politicians responsible for their actions.
Or if nothing else, maybe by learning to drive more safely, Coloradans could finally start to lower our car insurance rates.
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