Those on U.S. roadways as a motorist, bicyclist, or pedestrian are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident than from a fire, drowning, stroke, diabetes, or skiing. In Colorado, the number of traffic fatalities rose to over 600 in 2016 and in Denver the number of roadway deaths has increased each year since 2005. Shailen Bhatt, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), says that the death toll is “not acceptable.” Motorists may underestimate the importance of road design and maintenance in terms of accident prevention. Governmental entities at the local, state, and federal levels are tasked with planning, implementing, and maintaining the safety of our roadways. Errors associated with the design and building of roads may result in areas that are more susceptible to automobile accidents.
Current Colorado Danger Zones
Colorado Highway 52 in Aspen Area
Dan Fegan, a long established 56-year-old NBA agent, was killed in a vehicle crash involving a bus at an intersection of CO-82 north of Aspen. This intersection has been the site of several fatal accidents recently and has prompted CDOT and leaders from Pitkin County to take action. Officials are meeting to discuss their options for improving the safety at this dangerous intersection.
Colorado Highway 13 in Rifle Area
In a recent posting, we reviewed some troubling reports concerning a 15-mile stretch of Highway 13 north of Rifle, which has been the scene of numerous fatalities. In the period between 2013 and 2017 there were a total of 92 accidents, including six fatalities in a recent eight-month period. CDOT is actively seeking $25 million in federal grant funding, which would then activate a matching $35 million in state funds for various safety improvements including expanded shoulders and rumble stripping.
East Eisenhower Boulevard in Loveland
A two-mile segment of East Eisenhower Boulevard in Loveland encompasses three specific locations where there have been many accidents. The problem is further exacerbated following these crashes, as traffic is typically unable to proceed around the wreck. Sergeant Bryan Barnes of the Loveland Police Department explains that the road is insufficient to handle the current traffic flow and when a crash occurs, it often leads to subsequent accidents.
As Denver continues to absorb population increases, roadway congestion is increasingly the norm. Making matters worse, roughly 25% of the roads within city limits do not have sidewalks. Mayor Michael Hancock is well aware of the problem and is planning to allocate a greater share of the budget to these transportation concerns. Those areas with the greatest number of fatalities are the target for the first major round of infrastructure development.
Common Roadway Design Problems
Some of the typical design flaws that ultimately lead to crashes and injuries include the following.
- Lighting which is either insufficient or installed in a manner that is not optimal.
- Intersections that should have housed traffic signals.
- Locations that lack needed guardrails.
- Curves in the road that lack warnings such as signage.
- Lanes that are too narrow.
Motorists who are injured due to an improperly designed road may have difficulty in pursuing compensation through civil actions because of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. As with most government entities, these types of laws generally provide a shield from lawsuits. There are several instances where governmental immunity may not be applicable. The provision that is most closely associated with negligent roadway design is one that is defined as a “dangerous condition” along a street, highway, etc. Those wishing to pursue compensation in these situations must adhere to a set procedure that involves filing a claim in writing with the Attorney General within a 182 day period. Proving governmental liability is likely to be challenging and any recovery is subject to existing monetary limitations.
Sweden initiated the Vision Zero movement in 1997, which strives to eliminate traffic fatalities through the adoption of safety measures such as enhanced crosswalks, advanced traffic devices, bicycle lanes, and speed reduction tools. Denver has recently begun to embrace this initiative. Vision Zero has a proven track record of successfully reducing the volume of accidents; however, the majority of safety measures require at least moderate funding efforts.