Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver
(Colorado) According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, in 2021, over a third of Colorado’s traffic fatalities involved unrestrained passengers or drivers.
To reduce that rate in 2022, law enforcement agencies are coordinating with CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol to focus on ensuring drivers buckle up this summer when traffic fatalities regularly increase. The increased action runs May 16 through June 5.
Colorado’s seat belt laws vary by the motorists’ or passengers’ ages. Adult drivers and adult front-seat passengers cannot be pulled over solely for a seat belt violation. They can be ticketed for violating the seat belt law if stopped for another traffic violation.
However, all drivers under 18 and their passengers, no matter their ages, can be pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt. Additionally, regardless of age, any driver can be pulled over and ticketed if officers observe an unrestrained or improperly restrained child under 16 years old.
According to CDOT, most people killed in vehicles on Colorado roads are not buckled up, and Colorado traffic fatalities reached a 20-year-high in 2021 with 692 recorded deaths. The data shows that 232 people killed in traffic crashes were not wearing a seat belt.
“We hear a lot of excuses when it comes to why people don't wear seatbelts, but I have one reason to buckle up that beats all of them,” said Col. Matthew C. Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Seat belts have been proven to save lives. There are a lot of factors out of your control when driving — but this isn’t one of them. Choose to buckle up every time."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts reduce the risk of injury or death in a crash by 50%.
In 2021, 22 unbuckled people died in traffic crashes in Denver County, the most in the state, and an increase of 144% from 2020. The deaths represent nearly 60% of the county's 37 total passenger vehicle fatalities in 2021. Arapahoe County (20 unbuckled deaths) and Weld County (16 unbuckled deaths), trailed Denver County.
According to the State of Colorado Statewide Seat Belt Survey, 86% of Coloradoans use seat belts, below the national average of 90%.
“Last year was a deadly and tragic year on Colorado roads. As a state, we have to do better,” said Darrell Lingk, CDOT’s Office of Transportation safety director. “These enforcement periods are designed to keep drivers and passengers safe, but ultimately, it’s up to you to protect yourself — and we really hope you do.”
Last year, 2,994 unrestrained drivers received citations across Colorado during the two seat belt enforcement periods. Fines for not buckling up in Colorado start at $65, and parents or caregivers caught with an improperly or unrestrained child receive a minimum fine of $82.
Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13, and according to the National Highway Traffic Administration, 46% of car seats were misused.
Parents and caregivers can learn more about Colorado child passenger safety laws, recommendations and recalls at CarSeatsColorado.com.