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'This is a personal accountability solution': Drivers urged to take action as Colorado traffic fatalities hit 20 year high

Colorado recorded its most traffic deaths since 2002 last year, and has seen a 50% increase in deaths over the last decade, officials said.

COLORADO, USA — While the final numbers are still coming in Colorado officials said Tuesday they fully expect the number of traffic-related fatalities during 2021 to top 700, which hasn't happened since 2002.

"It's just appalling to me to think that that many people senselessly lose their lives in something we do every day," said Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Chief Matthew Packard. "In fact, I would offer to you that driving, or transporting or moving around our state on our roadways is probably, unfortunately, one of the more dangerous things that people do."

Currently, the number of fatalities in 2021 sits at 672 which is the most traffic deaths since 2002 when 743 deaths were recorded statewide. The 2021 number is expected to increase as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) continues to receive additional crash reports. It also marks a 50% increase from the 447 fatalities recorded in 2011, and officials called the situation a "crisis in human behavior on our roads." 

For 2021, fatalities involving impaired drivers increased 16% from 212 in 2020 to 246 in 2021. While fatal motorcycle, pedestrian and bicycle crashes remained relatively steady, fatalities involving vehicle occupants skyrocketed - up 22%. Many of those crashes involved people not wearing seat belts, officials said. Overall seatbelt usage in Colorado lags behind the national rate, according to officials.

Members of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado State Patrol (CSP), and Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) spoke about the issue but said they can't solve the problem alone.

> Watch Tuesday update: Officials discuss rise in Colorado traffic deaths

CSP did target enforcement in areas where data showed more fatalities were occurring that had an impact, but officials said everyone needs to be held accountable when it comes to safety on the roadways.

"At the end of the day, this is a personal accountability solution that we can all engage in," said Packard. "I'm not going to be able to have someone on every street corner, on every rural road, every intersection to be that visual deterrent to bad driving. What we are going to need is a true partnership with the people of Colorado."

Officials noted during 2021 that impaired driving was up and seatbelt usage was down. According to a release, there was a noted increase in risky driving behavior including speeding, reckless and aggressive driving, as well as distracted and impaired driving when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"The things that we see causing crashes are pretty consistent across the state," Packard said. "We see lane violations, which is indicative of inattentive driving, people making bad passes, people that are impaired, holding their cell phones, people are speeding and end up crossing into the adjacent lane because they can't maintain their own lane. You know these things piggyback on each other."

The counties with the most road fatalities in 2021:

  • El Paso 77
  • Adams  66
  • Denver 65    
  • Jefferson 50
  • Arapahoe 50
  • Weld 46

There were 50 traffic fatalities in Colorado Springs during 2021. The department's chief said they're utilizing 10 red light cameras at "problem" intersections and planned to add another 10 in the future. He also said he's authorized $150,000 in overtime specifically for the traffic unit to strategically target enforcement. He too, said they can't do it alone.

"We have too many citizens losing their lives in preventable crashes," said CSPD Chief Vincent Niski. "It will take a community response to change what is happening. This means wearing your seatbelt and making sure your passengers are also wearing their seatbelts. It means putting down your cellphone and making sure you're paying attention to your driving and not being distracted by something else."

RELATED: Colorado State Patrol, CDOT announce measures to address spike in deadly crashes

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