Colorado Department of Transportation says that 211 unbelted people died in 2017, up 29 percent from 2014 | VailDaily.com

Colorado Department of Transportation says that 211 unbelted people died in 2017, up 29 percent from 2014

Traffic fatalities are up 29 percent across Colorado in the past three years. While driving impaired and distracted is growing, not wearing seatbelts is still biggest killer in car crashes, the Colorado Department of Transportation says. This crash took the life of a motorcyclist near Eagle last August. Ironically, motorcycle deaths are down.

DENVER — Traffic deaths are up 29 percent across Colorado in the past three years, says the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Distracted and impaired driving play an increasing role, but the majority of the 630 people who died in Colorado in 2017 were not wearing their seat belts, CDOT says.

Colorado ranks 36th in the nation in seat belt use, well below the national average, said Jenna Jones with the Colorado Public Health and Environment.

Beyond the human toll, traffic fatalities cost Colorado $623 million each year, Jones said.

“We can’t lay the blame for the uptick on Colorado’s population growth. This comes down to poor choices many people make when driving, from not buckling up to driving impaired or using their phones.”Michael LewisColorado Department of Transportation executive director

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"It is simply not acceptable," said Col. Matthew Packard, Colorado State Patrol commander. "An average car that weighs 3,000 pounds requires your sober and complete attention. Lives depend upon this."

Avon passed its own seat belt ordinance and saw fatalities drop, Jones said, something she said she's encouraging other communities to emulate.

CDOT says 84 percent of Coloradans wear seat belts, which means 16 percent do not. A majority of traffic deaths come from that 16 percent, CDOT said.

Those 630 deaths in 2017 were a 4 percent increase over 2016, when 608 people died, and 29 percent since 2014, when 488 traffic fatalities were recorded. Those totals include pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists and passenger vehicle occupants.

Of the 399 passenger vehicle deaths last year, half were not wearing seat belts

"We can't lay the blame for the uptick on Colorado's population growth," CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis said. "This comes down to poor choices many people make when driving, from not buckling up to driving impaired or using their phones."

Packard said alcohol continues to impair the most drivers, but marijuana and other substances are gaining ground.

Typically it's poly-substances, Packard said, a combination of alcohol, marijuana and other substances.

"That means people are making multiple bad decisions before they drive a motor vehicle," Packard said.

Odds are 33-1

Colorado is home to 3.8 million licensed drivers, which means one in every 33 will be in a crash during 2018.

Odds of surviving a crash improve immensely if motorists buckle up, watch their speed, avoid mixing driving with drugs or alcohol and stay off their phones, CDOT says.

The one bright spot in the data was the 20 percent decline in motorcycle crashes: 101 in 2017, down from a record 125 in 2016. Most motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets, Lewis said.

"Colorado lacks many of the protections that other states have, including primary enforcement of our seat belt law and a hands-free law for using cellphones," Lewis said. "That certainly does not help as we work to solve the traffic safety crisis in Colorado."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

By the numbers

Colorado traffic fatalities in 2017

• 2017 fatalities: 630 (compared to 547 in 2015 and 608 in 2016)

• Highest counties: El Paso (76); Adams (64), Weld (62), Denver (46)

• Motorcyclist fatalities: 101, a 20 percent decrease from 2016 (125)

• Alcohol/drug-related fatalities: 232, a 16 percent increase from 2016 (197)

• Unbelted fatalities: 211, a 14 percent increase from 2016 (182)

• Pedestrian fatalities: 93, an 11 percent increase from 2016 (84)

• Construction zone fatalities: 15, a 114 percent increase from 2016 (7)

Source: Colorado Department of Transportation

Saving Lives

• 25 lives could be saved annually with 100 percent helmet use among motorcyclists

• 8 lives could be saved annually with 100 percent seat belt use among passenger vehicle occupants

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration