In the last year or so, the total number of car accidents in Boulder went down, but the number of severe crashes did not. Based on the city’s definition in its Vision Zero plan, a “severe accident” is a car accident that causes death or incapacitating injury. Why aren’t severe crashes similarly reduced compared to overall crashes?
The main cause seems to be the pandemic, which has changed our lives in virtually every way imaginable. During initial lockdowns, drivers traveled an average of 30% less than they normally would, and more people completely skipped unnecessary trips, such as shopping that could be done online instead. With fewer cars on the road, there are fewer crashes. It seems that many people have gotten used to minimizing how much they drive, so this could explain why total crashes are down.
However, the number of crashes was also declining before the pandemic ever hit. Based on Boulder’s Vision Zero Action Plan, there were 2,622 total crashes in 2016 but 2,178 total crashes in 2019, a difference of 444. With this data in mind, it could be that Boulder’s initiative to improve its road designs and street layouts might be the factor that explains the difference. For example, the Boulder City Council is aware of several intersections in the city with inordinately unsafe left turns, and a focal point of the Vision Zero effort is to get more of these intersections equipped with dedicated left-turn arrows.
Why More Severe Crashes Then?
If there are fewer drivers on an average day than before, and there are more roadway improvements, then why are severe crashes happening as often in 2021 as they did most other recent years? Some safety groups and transportation experts point to another pandemic-related problem that cropped up across the country: a surge in unsafe driving.
While the lockdowns kept people off the road, some drivers saw the emptier streets as an opportunity to relax their own safety standards. Speeding, intoxicated driving, and driving without a seatbelt all shot up considerably during the pandemic. Unfortunately, even new habits are hard to break, so many drivers who became more reckless during lockdown are still more reckless to this day.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- The first half of 2021 saw 18% more traffic fatalities than the same period in 2020.
- Per 100 million miles driven, 23% more people lost their lives to traffic accidents in 2020 than in 2019.
This data seems to work alongside the prediction that reckless driving behaviors went up and stayed up. As it is in most places in America, it is in Boulder as well. In the city, there are about 60 severe crashes each year, and this number went mostly unchanged since the coronavirus pandemic began despite fewer cars on the road.
How you Can Help Keep Boulder’s Streets Safe
It’s important for all drivers to realize that the number of severe crashes in Boulder and elsewhere won’t just go down on its own. It is only through a deliberate effort to drive safer and more responsibly will we begin to see an improvement to the safety of the city’s streets. Every driver should evaluate their driving habits seriously and see if there is more that they can do to stay safe behind the wheel. If this can happen, then we’ll all feel happier and safer in our own neighborhoods, just like we deserve. However, if you see an aggressive driver, you can call the Colorado State patrol aggressive driving program by dialing *277 from your cell phone, if you can do so safely. This program was started in 1998 to allow “real time” reporting of aggressive drivers to help keep our roads safe for all motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
At Klein Frank, P.C., we are proud to call Boulder our home. We ask that you always drive safely and help bring Vision Zero’s goal to reality. If you want to do more to help out, then please share this blog with your friends and family. If you need our help after a reckless driver hits you or a loved one, then contact us online or dial (303) 448-8884. Thank you!