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Troubling Statistics On Colorado Hit-And-Run Crashes

Jason Weaver
Creative Commons/Flickr
Distracted driving may be a contributing factor in the high number of hit-and-run crashes in the state

A new study from I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS finds that, in Colorado, nearly three times a month someone is killed by a driver who flees the scene. Even as overall traffic deaths in Colorado are falling, that’s not the case with hit-and-run fatalities.

"It goes up and down quite a bit every year," said I-News Senior Reporter Burt Hubbard. "But the general trend seems to be that hit-and-runs, as a percent of all highway fatalities, have been going up fairly steadily; and actually in 2012 – the last year they had [data] – it was the highest percent the state’s ever recorded."

A total of 104 people statewide have been killed by hit-and-run drivers between 2008 and 2012. Nearly two-thirds of them were bicyclists or pedestrians.

"They’ve had a couple of studies, national studies, done over the years, none really recent," Hubbard said. "They think there could be more distracted driving that leads to more accidents, and that more people think they can get away with it."

Colorado legislators passed a law in 2012 to toughen penalties for people who leave the scene of a hit-and-run crash, but Hubbard says it’s too soon to know if it has had any effect.

Read more: Colorado Hit-And-Runs Leave Law Enforcement 'Looking For A Ghost'

Interview highlights

What about the role of alcohol?

"The best study, which was done out of Vermont, but it was a national study -- they actually interviewed the drivers who were apprehended in the hit-and-runs. And they found that alcohol was a major factor, and that if people had been drinking, they didn’t want to get caught at all, because they knew the repercussions would be pretty severe.

And in fact that change in state law that took place in 2012, did away with a loophole that, basically [meant] motorists who were driving drunk and hit somebody – it was in their best interest to flee, and then come back after they’d sobered up and face the consequences. And so they tried to toughen the state law to take away that loophole."

What does the problem look like outside of the Denver metro – say, Larimer or Weld counties?

"It’s interesting, because Weld has always been characterized by high highway fatalities. But they haven’t had a hit-and-run fatality since 2010. We found very few hit-and-run fatalities in the rural areas."

Why is rural Colorado different from the conventional wisdom?

"Initial studies thought they [hit-and-runs] would be more prevalent in rural areas, because they could get away faster and no one would see them. It may be just a function of the population density and the car density in some of these metro areas. There may be more distracted-type driving situations in the metro areas. Still, you talk to people and they still have a lot of questions that go unanswered about this phenomenon."

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