Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver
(Douglas County, Colo.) After 28 people died on Douglas County roads last year, the most in five years, the Colorado State Patrol wants the county’s teen drivers to slow down and buckle up.
Troopers use traffic stops with teen drivers to instill positive, safe habits and potentially save some of their lives.
“Younger drivers tend to underestimate the risks in behaviors like speeding, texting while driving, and failing to wear a seat belt,” said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.
According to data from the Colorado State Patrol, only 86% of Colorado’s drivers and passengers choose to use seat belts. Common excuses like “It’s uncomfortable,” “I’m only going a few blocks,” or “I’m a safe driver” are part of the problem, the patrol said.
Nationally, 90% of drivers and passengers wear seat belts, the patrol said, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage drops proportionately with age.
“Looking at our 2021 data, we’ve definitely noticed who is less likely to use this proven, life-saving device,” said Packard. “Colorado State Troopers responded to more serious injury and fatality crashes involving improper use or no use of seatbelts with our male drivers between the ages of 20-39 than any other group.”
Law enforcement members issue tickets to educate motorists on seatbelt violations when they’re stopped for other traffic infractions. In 2021, the Colorado State Patrol issued over 14,590 seat belt citations. Of all drivers issued tickets, 3,780 were female, and 10,810 were male.
“Without parental support and positive ‘road models,’” Packard said, “it is up to chance that these young drivers will get pulled over and corrected before an unexpected crash happens.”
In 2021, the top reason troopers ticketed drivers aged 16-21 was speeding. Improperly using or not using a seatbelt was the third-highest offense.
Neither are new trends, but both are preventable if motorists choose to slow down and buckle up. Packard said motorists could not plan for a crash, and speeding increases the danger by creating more force in a crash.
“(T)here won’t be time to brace yourself in some way that would stop you from serious injury,” said Packard. “Driving the speed limit and using a seat belt keeps you inside the vehicle and increases your chances of survival by 50%.”
Colorado law requires all drivers under 18 and their passengers to wear seat belts regardless of their age. All drivers, including teens, can be pulled over simply for not wearing a seat belt or having passengers without seat belts.
Colorado also has a secondary enforcement law for adult drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts.