Fatal crashes continue to increase all across Colorado, where there has been a 30% rise in fatalities since 2014. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reported 635 traffic fatalities in 2017; a figure that they suggest is not simply the result of increases in the population. Colorado's State Highway 13, just north of Rifle, has been a continuous trouble spot for accidents. Garfield County and State Patrol data indicates that 92 crashes have occurred in the area between 2013 and 2017. Recently, there were six fatalities in five crashes during an eight-month period. The particularly problematic stretch of highway seems to be a 15-mile part encompassing Rifle, Meeker, and moving north toward Wyoming.
- Dewey Tafoya was fatally injured when attempting to pass while heading up an incline. He struck the vehicle he was passing as well as a tractor trailer that was traveling south, which also killed a Utah man.
- Troy Friar of Grand Junction was killed after losing control of his vehicle which ended up rolling over.
- LaPreal Flemings of Salt Lake City was killed as a passenger when the driver slid into another vehicle near mile marker 11.
- Ronald Stieben Jr. of Craig died after he lost control of his motorcycle and went off the side of the road.
- Brodie Tiffany of Silt died after being struck by a vehicle moving in the opposite direction near mile marker 18.
Dangerous Stretch of Highway
A Garfield County Trooper explained that the area between milepost 13 and 15 has been the most common area for accidents recently. Deborah Greenfeld, a resident of Nederland, says the road is beautiful, yet narrow and filled with curves. She feels that many of the problems seem to result from speeding, distractions, or driver intoxication. Brody Babcock, from Rifle, says that he is not surprised by the frequency of accidents along Highway 13. He describes it as a rural area with often high winds; a two-lane road where motorists tend to drift over close to the other lane.
Problems from Human Error
Chief Matthew Packard of the Colorado State Patrol and CDOT's Michael Lewis believe that many of these accidents are simply based on poor decisions by drivers such as operating while intoxicated, failure to wear a seat belt, distracted driving, and speeding. Crashes where a driver was impaired rose 41% between 2014 and 2017. Approximately 37% of fatal crashes involved impaired drivers in 2017. Roughly 16% of Colorado drivers do not wear their safety belt, and half of the fatalities involved passengers who did not buckle up. Packard and Lewis have been heightening their efforts in providing education to curtail some of these patterns.
Dave Eller, a Transportation Director at CDOT, feels that Highway 13 would benefit from the increased safety provided by adding shoulders and lanes for passing. Captain Rich Duran of the Colorado State Patrol feels that some roadway improvements coupled with reductions in driver errors could be what is needed. CODT is pursuing $25 million from a federal TIGER grant, which would then trigger a $35 million match from the state. Another $22 million is being pursued for Highway 13 from funding allocated to rural transportation.
Highway 13 improvements that are currently being considered include fencing to stop wildlife from entering the highway, adding a truck chaining area, some passing lanes and widened shoulders with rumble stripping. Where the highway meets Rio Blanco County Rd 5, they hope to add a lane for accelerating and decelerating, as many trucks use this route. Dave Eller feels the widened shoulders to the lanes with rumble stripping could reduce the number of drivers who veer off from the roadway.
Prevention & Enforcement
Captain Duran is reminding drivers to slow down when the roads are potentially icy and plans to conduct more patrolling of Highway 13. The increased patrols are looking to enforce the laws and reduce the volume of accidents. He said Highway 13 is among the top priorities for the Northwest Transportation Planning Region, due to the many crashes. Chief Packard says that they hope the increased visibility of troopers along Highway 13 will lead to more responsible driver behavior.
As law enforcement attempts to prevent accidents on Highway 13, you should do you share, too, and drive safe by paying attention to your surroundings and limiting your distractions.