Mountain wheels: Colorado’s aggressive driving epidemic has State Patrol on alert
I was making my way down Georgetown hill last Sunday on dry roads when I noticed the guy behind me was literally going 89 mph in a fully-loaded Toyota 4Runner, which has never been considered a high-performance vehicle.
The rest of my drive, motorists’ average speeds seemed to crest 85-plus, with plenty more folks going faster than that. In Golden/Lakewood, a few days later, several guys passed me in big pickup trucks doing easily 95 mph, ironically right at the spot of last April’s massive out-of-control tractor-trailer crash, which killed four people.
It’s gotten to a point where I often feel like I’m experiencing some weird real-life mashup of “The Purge” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Maybe you’ve been experiencing it, as well.
Just to make sure I’m not crazy, however, as I drove approximately 20,000 miles this year in more than 80 different new cars and trucks, I thought I’d call the State Patrol and see if they’re also seeing some sort of ruination of social order out on Colorado’s highways.
Trooper Josh Lewis, a 13-year veteran of the Colorado State Patrol, confirmed that high speeds, road rage and generally careless driving does indeed seem to be the new normal, not just on the blessed Interstate 70 but on highways across the state. Lewis says he’s not able to point to a single cause, but he says many drivers — like the 4Runner pilot seriously exceeding the physical limits of his heavy, slow-to-react SUV — seem to have developed a mistaken sense of invincibility.
“We totally understand — the big concern seems to be so many people who believe that (a crash) is never going to happen to me — ‘I’m ok, I’m the exception,’” Lewis says. “Believe me, physics is going to act the same for everyone. We see that every day.”
Those breakneck speeds, the left-lane hogging and the ill-mannered driving of both skier traffic and regular commuters has the patrol concerned, especially with more than 570 fatal car accidents in Colorado so far this year.
Unfortunately, with limited personnel resources and budgets, the state patrol can’t be there all the time, and drivers seem to be taking that tangible shortage of speed enforcement as a go-ahead for no-responsibility driving, more and more of the time.
“We deal with DUIs, speed and people simply not wearing their seatbelts — which is still a huge issue — which all seem to come back to that same mindset, that ‘it’s not going to happen to me,’” he says. “People don’t understand that in an accident, it’s not just you involved, it’s the first responders and the families of the victims. If you look at it on a community level, a single crash can affect dozens of people.”
And statistics, plus physics, plus challenging winter driving conditions, suggest that accidents are far more likely than many Colorado drivers believe, Lewis adds.
“Ultimately, it comes down to personal accountability and responsibility, and to be aware of the conditions, speed and weather, as it can all change in an instant,” he says.
Still, he says that he and other troopers experience unbelievable acts of vehicular mayhem on a daily basis, a sense of carelessness that has resulted in the deaths of five patrol staff in on-duty accidents since 2015, including two this year.
“We see it in our own vehicles — people will come flying past us at high speeds, and we have to ask, ‘really? Around a marked car?’ We have to spend time chasing them down, and then usually they get very defensive when we ask them why they were going so fast,” he says.
And despite what some drivers might think, your Colorado specialty plates aren’t going to get you out of a ticket, or give you a pass. Thank you for your service, veterans and firefighters, or folks sporting Share the Road, Support the Troops or Pioneer plates, but it doesn’t give you the right to cut off out-of-state drivers or even your fellow green-plated Coloradans.
“You’ll inevitably find a small percentage of people with those plates who feel that they’re special or exempt from the rules. It’s worse when we deal with folks who have firefighter or EMS plates, in those sort of incidents. They definitely should know better, which kind of makes us shake our heads.”
Lewis says some help can be found when the patrol receives citizen reports of dangerous driving, either while it’s happening, or after the fact. Dialing *CSP (*277) on a mobile phone or calling (303) 239-4501 is always an option, and if it can’t lead to a direct response from the local district, the calls at least help establish incident statistics that can help the troopers prioritize enforcement campaigns.
“But if you see a full-on emergency, be it a driver who’s fallen asleep or is weaving, or a bunch of kids bouncing around without seat belts in the back of an SUV, call 911,” he says. “Please call us, and don’t put yourself in danger, either. Don’t road-rage back, or chase someone down yourself.”
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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