DENVER (KDVR) — Pandemic driving behaviors have bled into the new year, creating grim new records in their wake.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and Colorado Springs Police Department held a joint press conference Tuesday to warn Coloradans of a new record year for traffic deaths. In the last decade, crash fatalities have risen more than 50% – far higher than the rate of population growth Colorado has experienced over the same time.
The yearly number of deadly crashes is at a 20-year high. With an official count of 617 in 2021, Colorado clocked more fatal crashes than any year since 2002. With them, fatalities are reaching records too.
As of Jan. 8. the number of crash deaths for 2021 672, again the highest number since 2002.
“A lot of people died in 2021,” said Colorado State Patrol Chief Matthew Packard. “The numbers are still rolling in. I fully expect that to exceed 700 in 2021.”
These crashes also reversed three years of improvement on the percentage of deaths that came from impaired drivers.
That percentage had been going down before the COVID pandemic began. In 2017, 37% of deadly crashes were from impairment. By 2019, that had dropped to 29%.
The pandemic coincided with an uptick, though. In 2021, 36% of fatal crashes were the result of impairment.
Officials say there is no single cause for the uptick in crash fatalities, but generally agree that they are mostly human error. Distracted driving, impaired driving, extreme speeding and seatbelt negligence are the biggest culprits. The law enforcement officials present admitted that increased staffing, though it would help, would not make the largest dent in crash deaths.
Rather than proposing policy solutions, they agreed that Coloradans simply need to drive more safely.
“If you look at all the causations we’ve talked about today that cause all those accidents, those are all personal choices,” said Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Vincent Niski. “A lot of it’s not infrastructure, a lot of it’s not public transit. It’s about a personal choice to run a red light. It’s about a personal choice to drive 100 miles an hour down a roadway.”