This is the second of a five-part series that explores the many factors that contribute to traffic accidents and their often devastating consequences in the U.S., and chiefly in Colorado. The state's Department of Transportation explains in their 2017 Integrated Safety Plan (ISP) and Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) that, in order to further progress toward the goal of “Zero Deaths” along Colorado roads, knowledge is critical. The ISP recognizes the three contributing factors in auto accidents: the roadway, the driver, and the vehicle itself. Here we will recognize those human factors that are increasing the likelihood of being involved in an accident and can heighten the severity of a traffic collision. Armed with this knowledge, we will be able to better prevent accidents.
Driver Fatigue/Falling Asleep Causes 4% of Accidents in Colorado
Accidents caused by drowsy driving or even falling asleep do occur. Similar to data concerning distracted driving, it is difficult to truly quantify the number of instances because making a determination is largely based on a driver's willingness to admit fault. The CDOT data from 2005-2015 suggests that 3% of crashes were caused by being asleep at the wheel and 1% were based on driver fatigue. The National Conference of State Legislatures is at the forefront of “drowsy driving” awareness, education, and enforcement. The magnitude of this problem is evident in their report that the U.S. has 100,000 such crashes per year, with 1,500 deaths.
Alcohol Usage Causes 10% of Accidents in Colorado
The CDOT data from 2005-2015 suggests that 10% of crashes were caused by drivers operating under the influence (OVI) of alcohol or drugs. Crashes attributed to OVI rose from 5,936 in 2014 to 6,219 in 2015—a disturbing trend. Widespread efforts in Colorado to further awareness continue and enforcement and penalties are increasingly tightening. OVI prevention and enforcement activity this year in Colorado includes:
- Sobriety checkpoints throughout the state as part of Checkpoint Colorado
- Adding additional Drug Recognition Experts and ongoing training
- Continued creation and expansion of DUI Courts
Distracted Driving Causes 28% of Accidents in Colorado
The CDOT data from 2005-2015 suggests that 28% of crashes were caused by distracted driving. This is a combination of four types of distraction: passenger, radio, mobile device, and other. Distraction is one of the newest emerging problems with the widespread use of mobile devices. States have been enacting legislation to prevent this dangerous trend over the last 5-7 years. Colorado prohibits drivers less than 18 years of age from using hand-held devices while driving and all drivers are prohibited from text messaging.
Aggressive Driving/Speeding Causes 8% of Accidents in Colorado
The CDOT data from 2005-2015 suggests that 8% of crashes were caused by aggressive driving, which is largely exhibited by traveling at excessive rates of speed. In 2015, there were approximately 216 traffic fatalities attributed to speeding. Law enforcement in 2016 issued over 40,000 traffic citations for speeding.
Young Drivers/Aging Drivers
Younger drivers are classified according to the SHSP as those between 15 and 20 years old. Drivers who are in their first year of driving have the greatest likelihood of being in a collision. On data from 2007 to 2012, drivers 18-20 years old experienced 3,233 serious injuries or deaths, while those 15-17 experienced 1,539 during this period. In comparison, no other age group had more than 731. Aging drivers are those ages 65 and older and are a segment of significant focus in the SHSP. We are entering a decade where the “baby boomers” will be reaching 65; therefore, the population of those over 65 will be significant. Older adults experience many concerns that negatively impact the ability to drive including vision problems, slowed reaction time, and hearing problems. During a study of 2007-2012 data, those 65 and over made up 18% of accident fatalities.
Failure to Wear Motorcycle Helmet
Although a motorcyclist's failure to wear a helmet does not cause crashes, no discussion regarding the prevention of roadway fatalities should exclude this leading contributor to accident severity. In Colorado, those under 18-years-old must wear a motorcycle helmet, while the requirement is optional for adult riders. Sixty-two percent of those killed in motorcycle accidents in Colorado were not wearing a helmet or were not wearing them in the correct manner.
Failure to Use Restraints
Similar to failing to wear a motorcycle helmet, failing to use restraints such as seat belts or child safety seats greatly impacts accident severity. In 2015, the approximate usage rate for seat belts was 85%, slightly less than the national average of roughly 87%. The state is among the few that does not have a dedicated seat belt law. Based on data spanning the last five years, 20% of those under 15-years-old who were injured or killed were determined to be inappropriately restrained.
The process of preventing auto accidents and reducing their severity must be a truly comprehensive one. Accidental human error can cause crashes; however, many of these factors such as distracted driving and driving under the influence are based on consciously bad decisions. The 2017 ISP is a strong indication of Colorado's commitment to improving roadway safety.