As the number of people who died in crashes caused by alcohol or drugs rises statewide, a coalition in La Plata County is forming to encourage responsible driving.
In 2016, 191 people in Colorado died in crashes related to impaired driving, and last year it rose to 233. Fatal crashes in general are increasing across the state, from 608 in 2016 to 648 in 2017.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Sam Cole attributes the rise in fatal crashes to impaired and distracted driving, and driving without a seat belt.
“I think having community-based approaches at the local level can be very effective,” Cole said. “Certainly, a collaboration between state government and local nonprofits and law enforcement can make a big difference.”
The Coalition on Responsible Driving was recently formed to address drunken and impaired driving across the region after receiving state grant funding, said Project Director Jordy King.
Last year in La Plata County, 11 people died in traffic crashes, four of which were related to impaired driving. In 2016, La Plata County had three traffic deaths related to impaired driving.
In Montezuma County, La Plata County’s neighbor to the west, three people died in crashes related to drinking or drugs in 2017 compared to two the previous year, according to CDOT.
Celebrating Healthy Communities, a Durango nonprofit, applied for the state grant to address DUIs and received $156,500 a year for up to five years from Colorado Persistent Drunk Driving/Law Enforcement Assistance Fund. The nonprofit formed CORD and funded organizations in San Juan, Montezuma and Dolores counties to form county-specific coalitions, King said.
This year, organizations across the region are focused on gathering feedback from community members about the best way to address impaired driving.
King said he hopes to involve residents in La Plata County with broad perspectives, including law enforcement officers; health care workers; substance abuse counselors; and owners and employees of bars, restaurants and the cannabis industry.
King’s long-term goals are to recruit community leaders who will continue to address drunken driving even after grant funding ends, he said.
“If we don’t reduce the number (of DUIs), then I don’t think we did our job very well,” he said.
CORD is also exploring short-term financial partnerships such as funding increased law enforcement.
“If Durango High School wants to have an educational day for their students and staff, we would be open to that,” he said.
Those interested in participating in the coalition can email King at firstname.lastname@example.org.