Summit bucking state traffic fatality trend |

Summit bucking state traffic fatality trend

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – While the state is on pace to suffer the most traffic fatalities in 20 years, Summit County – knock on wood, emergency providers said – has yet to record an accident death.

Law enforcement officers and other experts attribute Summit’s safe roads to a number of factors, but also said things may change as summer tourism and traffic intensify.

As of last week, Colorado has recorded 175 deaths. In 2001, there were 736 accident fatalities, the most since 1981. If this year’s pace keeps up – the deadliest months of July and August are yet to come – state patrol officers said this year could top the record.

“Last year was a pretty bad year. Terrible. We’re headed down the same path, even worse,” said Colorado State Patrol Capt. Jim Wolfinbarger.

Major factors in highway deaths are driving inattentively, speeding and animals crossing traffic, troopers said.

But in Summit County, traffic fatalities have been decreasing the past two years. By June 2000, seven people had died on local byways, and 16 were dead before the year was over. In 2001, the number of fatalities dropped to four.

“Some people are driving safer, maybe,” said CSP Trooper Jeff Matthews of Frisco Troop 6B. “But also, our increased enforcement efforts are putting more troopers on the road. We’re writing more tickets and better enforcing the traffic laws.”

Matthews said Summit’s luck could change, however. He noted summer tourism has yet to pick up. “Once school gets out, we’ll see a large increase in traffic,” he said.

According to Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson, construction projects undertaken in recent years in Summit County were carried out due to safety concerns. That’s not to take credit for Summit’s safe record so far this year, he said, “but anytime we widen shoulders or add turn lanes, it’s for safety.”

“The less you get people stopping in traffic to make a turn, the less you have to worry,” Wilson said. “Two-lane roads usually have the highest fatality rates.”

Recent road projects in Summit County include the realignment of lanes on Highway 9 near Tiger Road, widening the bridge on Highway 6 over the Snake River and widening and shoulder work on Highway 9 north of Silverthorne.

Wilson also said two significant factors in reducing highway fatalities are cracking down on alcohol use and enforcing seat belt laws. In cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies, and with federal grant money, CDOT has organized anti-drunken driving initiatives that include sobriety checkpoints and increased patrol officers.

“DUI enforcement is huge,” said Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales. “Statistically, when you look at the whole formula of population, how much the number of licensed drivers has grown and factor in how many crashes we’ve had, I think we’re doing well. A big plug should go to the Summit Prevention Alliance for all their work in this area.”

Morales agreed with Wilson that seat belts save lives. Morales added that newer cars equipped with multiple air bags are keeping the number of fatalities lower.

“I don’t know if people are driving better, but fortunately there’s been a lot of studies by insurance companies and crash tests by manufacturers,” Morales said. “Combine that with the effective use of media for car standards and ratings, and you get consumers paying a lot of attention to car safety.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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