Last June, 25-year-old Austin Sherwood was riding his motorcycle from one job to another after stopping at home for a sandwich when he was struck and killed by an impaired and distracted driver.
“There were four people in the car, and he was the one driving and watching GPS,” Austin’s father Jeff Sherwood said. “And Austin won’t be around because of it.”
Last June, 73 people died in 69 crashes across the state – the most out of any month in 2017 – Colorado Department of Transport Highway Safety Manager Glenn Davis said.
All told, 259 people died on Colorado roads in crashes in May through August 2017. The deaths in the summer months accounted for 41 percent of the total deaths across the state in 2017.
The time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is often referred to as the “deadliest 100 days,” and Davis partially attributes the increase in crashes to more people on the roads.
“Good for them for seeing the state of Colorado, but they have to take the right measures to be safe,” Davis said.
Fort Collins Police Services Sgt. Matt Johnson said in addition to more cars, warm weather means more bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians on Northern Colorado streets.
“It takes more awareness and more alertness to see some of the other vehicle types,” Johnson said. “You have to be more alert to be able to see those risks and keep everybody safe.”
In Larimer County, 40 percent of crashes involving fatalities in 2017 occurred in the summer months.
It’s not just more people on the roads in the summertime, Davis said, it’s the dangerous choices some make behind the wheel.
The man that hit Austin Sherwood wasn’t a habitual drunk driver, Jeff Sherwood said.
“It can happen to anyone,” he said. “It can happen in split second.”
Officials see alcohol-impaired driving and distracted driving increase in the summer because of holidays and other celebrations.
“If we’re going on a trip or trying to make it to an event, we tend to get distracted by our phones to help us navigate or help plan the event we’re going to,” Johnson said.
Those factors combine with people not using seat belts and the leading cause of crashes in the state – speed.
“The No. 1 protective thing you can do to protect yourself from drivers who aren’t making the right choices is wear your seatbelt,” Davis said “Any roadway in the state is capable of being driven safely if people do the right thing.”
Over the holiday weekends for Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, CDOT partners with local law enforcement agencies to increase enforcement.
“We want people to know we’re out there, and the people that we arrest are the ones who didn’t listen or didn’t get the message,” Davis said.
CDOT provides funding to law enforcement agencies statewide to support increased enforcement in areas that have shown to have a high amount of impaired drivers or travelers violating seatbelt laws, Davis said.
Colorado State University Police Department, Fort Collins Police Services, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Loveland Police Department were among the Northern Colorado agencies that received funding for increased impaired driving enforcement this year.
CSU, Fort Collins and Loveland police departments also received additional funding for increased seat belt enforcement.
Aside from wearing your seat belt, Davis said the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to arrange for a ride ahead of time if you’re planning on drinking or are otherwise impaired.
Jeff Sherwood said to err on the side of caution; If you’ve been out drinking, consider taking an Uber, riding the bus or calling a friend.
“There are so many options, it just doesn’t make sense,” Jeff Sherwood said, mentioning he doesn’t think he’s ever spent more than $10 on an Uber trying to get around Fort Collins.
“I wouldn’t even take the chance,” he added.
Davis also said to only drive the speed the roads allow you to do.
Johnson shared a tip that he says he uses in his everyday life: Be patient and give yourself extra travel time.
“Give it a few extra minutes,” Johnson said. “Having that little bit of a time buffer helps you to make better choices and not get frustrated and really be more alert.”
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