COLORADO SPRINGS – 2021 was the deadliest year on Colorado’s roads in nearly 20 years, after 672 people died in car crashes.

That’s an increase from 622 the year before and the highest number since 2002, when 743 people died. Colorado State Patrol Chief Col. Matthew Packard says the increase means we’re seeing “a crisis in our state.”

“Find somewhere where we lost 700 people in a year and it [didn’t] rise to the top of our concern,” Packard said in a press conference Wednesday.

Data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing the number of traffic deaths annual in Colorado.

It’s a two-year trend, CDOT says. Even though traffic decreased in 2020 by 12% during the height of the pandemic, fatalities increased by four percent that year.

“Driving or transporting, or moving around our state on our roadways is probably one of the most dangerous things Coloradans do everyday,” Packard said.

El Paso County was somewhat of an outlier—decreasing from 85 deaths in 2020 to 77 in 2021, yet El Paso County still leads the state in traffic fatalities. El Paso County had 17% more crashes than Denver County, the next closest county in terms of population.

Data from CDOT marking the most traffic fatalistic by county

“It’s a personal choice to run a red light. It’s… a personal choice to drive 100 miles an hour down a roadway. It’s a personal choice to run a stop sign and crash into another vehicle,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski said.

Niski said his department shelled out $150,000 in overtime to cover shortages in traffic enforcement. Despite that, traffic citations from CSPD increased in 2021.

Colorado Springs City Council also passed an ordinance in 2021 to seize cars that are documented repeat offenders for street racing.

Niski reports that red light cameras have been succesful in the city, and as a result, they plan to double intersections that have them from 10 to 20.

“Red light traffic tickets are not revenue generators. They are a way to get a message out to our public that you need to drive more safely,” Niski said.

Statewide, seat belt use dropped to 86% and the number of unbuckled passengers who died in crashes increased from 195 in 2020 to 226 in 2021. Colorado lags behind the nationwide rate in seat belt usage (90%).

Fatal crashes involving an impaired driver also increased in 2021 by 16%, from 212 in 2020 to 246 in 2021.

Packard says the choices people make go beyond their law enforcement capability.

“If I had 1,000 more troopers and could put them at every spot possible, it wouldn’t be enough,” he said. “What it really comes down to is personal responsibility.”

Packard reports “extreme speeding” has been rising across the state, saying a trooper was late to a meeting earlier this year because they had clocked someone driving 107 mph on I-25 between Colorado Springs and Castle Rock.

It was the second 100-mph driver that the troopers discussed in that meeting.

“Certainly, having a consequence is an important deterrence to this bad behavior but, man, if 700 lives lost isn’t a compelling statement, I don’t know what is,” Packard said.