Improved road etiquette key to stemming traffic fatalities: Colorado State Patrol

In an effort to stem the steadily growing number of traffic fatalities in the state, the Colorado State Patrol is asking motorists to make a greater effort to concentrate on their driving and to focus on road etiquette.

Traffic deaths have increased each year since the pandemic hit, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, 597 people died in car crashes. The following year, that number increased to 622 despite there being fewer people on the state’s roads and highways.

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In 2021, when traffic volume returned to pre-pandemic levels, the traffic death toll leapt to 691, agency data show.

The State Patrol partially attributes the increase in deadly crashes to an overall reluctance to share the road with fellow motorists.

“While many of us have been saying that driving in Colorado has gotten very unpleasant since the pandemic and fellow motorists seem more reckless than ever, we now see a consistent and disappointing trend with our data,” stated Col. Matthew C. Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Driving etiquette seems to have gone out the window and it’s time for drivers to bring it back before their aggressive behaviors result in a citation or worse, a horrible crash.”

Master Trooper Gary Cutler echoed Packard’s assertions.

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“For some reason, people are a lot more aggressive than they were prior to (the pandemic),” Cutler said. “We see a lot more speeding, a lot more tailgating. I don’t know if it’s because people aren’t giving themselves enough time to get to work or wherever they’re going, or if they’re just in a rush, or if we’ve got a driving public that just doesn’t care anymore.”

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Lane violations have been a primary cause of injury and fatal crashes over the past year, the State Patrol said in a recent news release. Driving too close to the center line, abrupt and aggressive lane switching, and drifting back and forth across lane divisions are all considered lane violations, Cutler said.

Drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs will often drift between lanes, but they only make up a fraction of violators, according to the State Patrol. Aggressive driving and inexperience behind the wheel account for the majority of lane violations.

In addition to a yearlong campaign called “Stay in Your Lane,” the State Patrol is asking Colorado motorists to make a concerted effort to follow five rules for road etiquette:

  • Use the shoulder only for emergencies, never for passing or merging;
  • Don’t tailgate — leave a safe space between yourself and the car in front of you;
  • Allow other drivers to merge;
  • Don’t drive distracted;
  • Don’t respond to aggressive drivers.

Situational awareness while driving is critical to having a safe drive, Cutler said.

“If people are concentrating on what’s around them when they’re behind the wheel, and giving up all the other distractions — whether it’s a passenger, the phone, the radio, eating, whatever — they’re going to have a safe drive,” he said.

State and local agencies are hoping Colorado drivers take an active role in reducing the number of traffic deaths by simply practicing courtesy on the roads.

“It really goes back to the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself,” Cutler said. “If everybody did that, we would have some of the best and safest roads anywhere.”

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