National and Colorado Traffic Fatalities Edge Up in 2012

Feb 27, 2014

The nation's traffic fatalities increased in 2012, the first yearly increase since 2005, according to final data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The same was true for Colorado, which reported 472 traffic deaths in 2012, compared to 447 for 2011. However, Colorado's record of decline extends only to 2008, when 548 people were killed on the state's highways.

The national spike in 2012 was 3.3 percent over 2011, or 1,082 more people killed. While traffic deaths have declined generally in recent years - with greater use of restraints, more alcohol awareness and better vehicle safety designs, among other contributing factors - one stubborn trend has persisted.

More people die on rural roads, so designated by state highway departments and approved by the Federal Highway Administration, than on urban streets and highways. One NHTSA report found that only 19 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, but that rural fatalities account for 55 percent of all traffic deaths.

That has long been true in Colorado, where about 82 percent of the state's 5.2 million people are concentrated along the urban Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. In 2012, however, for the first time in five years, there were more urban fatalities than rural, 241-to-231.

Still, given the vast disparity in population, traffic fatalities expressed as a percentage of total residents are far more numerous on rural roads. I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS analyzed 10 years of traffic fatality data, compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation, and then compared it to the average population in each county over a decade – calculating a rate equal to the number of deaths per 10,000 residents in road crashes.

The five counties with the highest rate of traffic fatalities – Mineral, Cheyenne, San Juan, Kiowa and Baca – are all small, remote counties, and four of them lost population in the first decade of the 21st century. Two of them are among the three Colorado counties with less than 1,000 residents.

Other Colorado factoids in the NHTSA final report for 2012: 133 fatalities, or 28 percent of the total, involved alcohol-impaired driving; 79 fatalities, or 17 percent, were motorcyclists;  76 people killed, or 16 percent, were pedestrians, and 13 people, or 3 percent, were bicyclists.