Traffic enforcement drops, deaths rise in CO

April 26, 2013

The numbers speak for themselves: Between 2002 and 2010, highway traffic deaths in Colorado experienced a historic decline, dropping from 743 to 439. Then the Colorado State Patrol dramatically cut back on highway traffic enforcement in 2011 and 2012. Traffic-related fatalities spiked, climbing to 486 last year.

Colorado State Patrol patch

Changes in the Colorado State Patrol’s enforcement procedures have coincided with an unfortunate rise in traffic fatalities. Via conner395; licensed under Creative Commons.

The local paper, The Greeley Tribune, reports that “Troopers issued fewer tickets, made fewer arrests and stopped fewer drivers, according to the patrol’s own data.” The figures are crystal clear, according to the Tribune and other news sources. Speeding tickets decreased by 17 percent, seat belt tickets decreased by 37 percent and impaired driving arrests decreased by 21 percent.

Additionally, patrol data “shows that during 2011 and 2012, troopers also seriously reduced their contacts with drivers, even those not resulting in a ticket. When on special overtime patrols to find drunk drivers and enforce seat belt use, troopers cut their contacts with drivers by nearly two-thirds from 2011 to 2012,” according to the Tribune.

As for the breakdown of the 2011 traffic fatalities, the Colorado Department of Public Safety says that two-thirds of those killed were not wearing seat belts. One-third of the fatalities involved a drunk driver, and forty-one percent of deaths were related to speeding.

US Highway 160 Colorado

As of 2009, Colorado’s highway system placed 22nd in total lane miles, at around 183,000. First place goes to Texas, with a whopping 654,923 lane miles. Via Dougtone; licensed under Creative Commons.

Interim Police Chief Scott Hernandez told Colorado Public News that “there could be a link” between the lowered level of traffic enforcement and the rise in highway fatalities and said that his department will be investigating the potential correlation. Hernandez also suggested that required training may have taken troopers off the road and led to fewer tickets: All of the Patrol’s 750 officers took four hours of training on search and seizure procedure and Fourth Amendment rights last year.

Reduced traffic enforcement was a hallmark of the Colorado State Patrol under former patrol chief, James Wolfinbarger, who revamped the Patrol’s plan of action for lessening highway fatalities and focused on particular objectives, such as reducing injuries and fatal crashes on the state’s more dangerous roads. However, by 2011, the Patrol moved away from these objectives to pursue what the Colorado Public News reports as a goal to “maximize intelligence-led strategies to protect life and property.”

Today, the Patrol is also focusing on drunk drivers and on studying the details related to frequent car crashes.

Be smart stay alive buckle up sign

Changes in police procedure aren’t the only explanation for the rise in traffic fatalities. The decline from 2002-2010 may have been due to a soft economy, or to one-time gains from increased use of safety belts. Buckle up sign via

Still, some positive safety measures may have had a direct impact in the initial decline of highway traffic deaths in Colorado from 2002 to 2010. In addition to existing state patrol efforts, an increase in the number of people who wear seatbelts and more cars on the road equipped with crash warnings and airbags may have resulted in a reduction in highway deaths over that period.

Another little-known factor? The economy. Anne McCartt of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety told Colorado Public News that people drove less during the recession, and that highway deaths began rising throughout the country last year. “What we’re all hoping is that they don’t go up to the level that they were before we saw this big decline,” she said.

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Category: Enforcement, Traffic law

About the Author ()

Katy is a writer, reporter and editor who, in addition to writing for RoadTrafficSigns, has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, Hamptons magazine, Hearst Corporation, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and a variety of other publications and nonprofits. After graduating with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and distinctions on her thesis and in the consumer journalism seminar, she moved to Milan, Italy. In Italy, she worked as a writer and consultant for an international magazine, editing and translating text and reporting on such events as the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the annual design fair. A born and raised New Yorker, she has lived in three of five boroughs, relying quite a bit on public transport until getting her driver's license at the admittedly belated age of 21.

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