Federal and state data show the majority of fatal car crashes in La Plata County happen on U.S. Highway 160.
The 1,465-mile-long highway starts in Colorado at the New Mexico state line southwest of Cortez and ends at the Kansas state line east of Springfield.
In the last five years, more than 10 fatal crashes happened on U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2016 alone, 10 people were killed in traffic accidents in La Plata County, four of which occurred on U.S. Highway 160. Three of those crashes involved impaired drivers.
The statewide total for fatal crashes in 2016 was 558 – 175 caused by impaired drivers – in which 608 people were killed.
Sawaya Law Firm created an interactive map with data that spans from 2010 to 2016, where viewers can track where fatal crashes happened and what factors contributed to them, including alcohol, drugs, distracted driving, aggressive driving and failure to yield.
Sam Cole, traffic safety communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said about one-third of all fatal crashes involve impaired drivers.
“We saw impaired fatalities go up ... in 2017,” he said. “We also noticed a spike in unbelted fatalities.”
In 2017, 11 people were killed in traffic accidents in La Plata County, of which three involved impaired drivers, according to CDOT. There were 598 fatal crashes in 2017 across Colorado – 222 caused by an impaired driver – resulting in 646 deaths.
Cole said fatal crashes are typically attributed to one of three factors, or a combination of the three: speed, unbelted drivers and/or impaired drivers.
“Crashes that involve death or serious injury are of utmost importance to us,” he said. “We put a tremendous amount of effort into addressing these accidents through funding law enforcement efforts and awareness campaigns for the dangers on our roadways.”
CDOT helps fund the Click It or Ticket and High Visibility Enforcement campaigns in conjunction with holidays and other major events during the year when people are more likely to drink and drive.
“We are seeing fatalities spike higher in Colorado than the rest of the country because we do not have a lot of the same protections that other states have,” Cole said.
Adult motorcyclists are not required to wear a helmet in Colorado. Likewise, drivers cannot be pulled over in Colorado for not wearing a seat belt, even though seat belts are mandatory for drivers and all front-seat passengers. Drivers can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt if they are pulled over for a different traffic violation, such as speeding.
“The seat belt law is weakly enforced,” Cole said. “We try to get law enforcement to really pay attention to ticketing drivers for not buckling up if they pull them over for another offense.”