Colorado Traffic Fatalities Skewed Toward Rural Areas

The five Colorado counties with the highest rate off traffic fatalities – Mineral, Cheyenne, San Juan, Kiowa and Baca – are all small and remote, four of them lost population in the first decade of the 21st century. Two of them are among the three Colorado counties with less than 1,000 residents.

On the flip side, the five counties with the lowest rate of traffic deaths – Arapahoe, Boulder, Jefferson, Douglas and Denver – are in the highly populated metropolitan area.

About 82 percent of Colorado’s 5.2 million residents live along the urban Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. And yet more than 50 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state occur on rural highways.

About 82 percent of Colorado’s 5.2 million residents live along the urban Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo. And yet more than 50 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state occur on rural highways.


To rank the counties for traffic fatalities, I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS News examined 10 years of traffic fatality data, compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation, and then compared it to the average population in each county over a decade – calculating a rate equal to the number of deaths per 10,000 residents in road crashes.

A new report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 55 percent of those who died in road crashes in 2011 lost their lives in rural areas – and that the rate of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was significantly higher in rural areas than in urban ones, 1.82 compared to .73. In Colorado, 51 percent of those who died in 2011 crashes perished on rural roads, according to the same report. And this is true even though 19 percent of Americans live in rural areas, and only 18 percent of Coloradans.

There are many reasons for such disparities in the numbers. But among the most important are the availability and speed of high-quality emergency medical services, and the ease of  access to the high-level trauma centers that save many lives among the critically injured.

“The ‘Golden Hour’ is a real thing,” said Dr. Gregory Jurkovich, chief of surgery at Denver Health Medical Center. “The concept is valid – you have a limited amount of time before you’ve lost your opportunity to save someone’s life.”

The complete I-News inquiry into rural emergency medicine by senior reporter Kevin Vaughan with data analysis by senior reporter Burt Hubbard can be found here.

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