State Patrol uses data on accidents to focus its efforts — and the strategy appears to be working

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By AJ Vicens

Interstate 70 is, by far, the most accident-prone road in Jefferson County, according to data compiled by the Colorado State Patrol.

But the agency’s data also show that crashes, injuries and fatalities from traffic accidents are down over the last couple of years on I-70, C-470 and U.S. 285.

Capt. Scott Friend, commander of the State Patrol’s Troop 6A — which covers Jefferson County — said his troop is doing a lot of good with slim resources by targeting certain areas, most notably I-70, which he says was “nuts” before troopers began focusing on it four years ago.

The troop — with fewer than 25 troopers and supervisors to cover Jefferson County — investigates all traffic accidents in the unincorporated areas of the county, and inputs data on the accidents into an internal database that helps the agency track trends and plan accordingly. The troopers respond to calls and also conduct team activities that target certain areas, as they have been doing on I-70.

The number of injury and fatal accidents dropped from 80 in the period from Nov. 1, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2005, to 54 in the same period in 2006-07. Friend said he counts fatalities and injury accidents together because many factors are involved in determining whether a person is injured or dies in the actual crash.

“With the limited resources we have, we’re finding it really difficult to reduce (incidents) any further,” Friend said.

The budget for the State Patrol is set by the state legislature every year, and with budget reductions across the board, there hasn’t been the funding to substantially increase patrol operations in years.

Property-damage crashes also declined during that same time period, but the troop saw a spike last winter due to the severe snow conditions statewide, which contributed to 293 property-damage accidents on I-70 in Jeffco between Nov. 1, 2006, and Oct. 31, 2007.

“Last winter was hell,” Friend said. “We got our butt kicked” on I-70.

But Friend said a lack of resources is making it increasingly harder to make any more of a difference.

More than a quarter of all the accidents on I-70 during that time — 89 — were caused by people driving too fast for conditions, with inattentive drivers coming in second, at 74 accidents. Animals also caused 57 accidents, with DUIs causing 16 accidents — with one fatality.

Major roads in South Jeffco saw reductions as well.

U.S. 285 saw its injury and fatal accidents drop to 31 — with just one fatality — from Nov. 1, 2006, to Oct. 31, 2007, down from 43 the year before. Animals caused nearly 25 percent of the accidents on the road, with drivers exceeding safe speeds for conditions coming in a close second. Four DUI accidents put that factor seventh on the list of causes.

C-470 saw a 50 percent drop in injury accidents during that time period, with 18 this last year and 29 the year before. Inattentive drivers caused most — 52 — of the accidents on that road between November 2006 and October 2007, and drivers going too fast for conditions caused 25 accidents on that major roadway. There were no fatalities the last two years on C-470 in Jeffco, and just four DUIs.

Even streets like Wadsworth Boulevard saw a drop in injury accidents over the last two years, going from 64 between November 2005 and October 2006 to 26 this year.

Property-damage accidents were up on all the mentioned roadways, largely due to the harsh winter driving conditions in late 2006 into early 2007.

Friend said he’s proud of his troopers for making big gains in traffic safety while many other relevant statistics are up, including the number of drivers on the road and population. Friend noted that troopers work in a dangerous environment, as evidenced by the trooper killed on Interstate 76 recently while helping a driver recover a load that had fallen off his truck.

Friend said three troopers have been hit in accidents on I-70 in the five years he’s been captain of Troop 6A. He wants drivers to know there is a law that mandates drivers move over a lane if they have room when they see emergency vehicles on the side of the road — or any vehicle, for that matter.

With limited resources and a lot of major roads to patrol, the database helps the troop determine what the targeted areas should be. Right now the focus is I-70 because that’s where most of the action is, Friend said.

“The majority of our effort is on I-70 because we can save the most lives, prevent the most injuries and prevent most of the property damage,” Friend said. He added that the troop is evaluating whether it needs to focus so much on I-70, and could make a change in strategy beginning in January 2008.

He also added that the troop could not handle traffic enforcement all alone, and that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has helped make a difference.

“This place would be a nightmare without them,” Friend said.

Between the sheriff’s office and the Colorado State Patrol, the roads are becoming a bit safer, according to the data. It remains to be seen if the decreases can be sustained with the shortage of manpower and resources facing Troop 6A, but Friend has no choice but to keep trying.

“I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Friend said.

AJ Vicens can be reached at: aj@evergreenco.com.