Highlands Ranch

Vehicle accidents on the rise

Sheriff’s office asks residents to slow down, concentrate on driving

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Michelle Luttman was drivingnorth on University Boulevard whenshe stopped at a red light at the Highlands Ranch Parkway intersection.

Before the light turned green, an SUV rear-ended her car. The crash left Luttman with neck and back pain.

“I’ve seen a whole lot of everything,” said Luttman, a former Domino’s Pizza delivery driver who has lived in Highlands Ranch four years. “A lot of people are rushing, on their phone, not stopping at stop signs — or don’t pay attention to see if the other way has a stop sign.”

Luttman’s crash was one of 2,149 in 2016 on Highlands Ranch roads, a 4 percent increase from 2015, according to Sgt. Chris Washburn of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Nearly at its build-out of roughly 100,000 residents, Highlands Ranch is bustling with more cars than ever.

The rise in the number of motor vehicles is a reflection of the greater region’s population boom. The Denver metro area — which encompasses Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson, Denver, Broomfield and Douglas counties — was home to about 2.7 million people in 2015, an increase of roughly 250,000 residents since 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs State Demography Office.

Douglas County alone grew from 285,465 people in 2010 to 322,387 residents in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Highlands Ranch, the county’s most populated region, is home to an estimated 95,830 people. The suburban, unincorporated community embodies a car culture with little reliance on public transportation.

And more cars on the road inevitably mean the possibility of accidents is greater.

Dangerous habits

Residents and emergency officials raise concerns about unsafe driving habits on Highlands Ranch roads.

Chronic issues among Highlands Ranch drivers are texting, speeding, following too closely and being inattentive on the road, Washburn said.

“Generally, people need to concentrate on driving,” Washburn said. “If they are driving their cars, that needs to be their primary focus, not messing on their phones or radios.”

Unsafe behavior while driving is a not just a Highlands Ranch problem.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 88 percent of millennial drivers, people ages 18 to 32, according to Pew Research Center, engaged in at least one risky behavior behind the wheel — speeding, running red lights or texting — over a 30-day period. That number was 69 percent for drivers ages 16 to 18 and 75 percent for drivers ages 40 to 59.

The 2015 U.S. Census report in Highlands Ranch counted about 8 percent of people in the community as 15 to 19 years old, about 12 percent as 20 to 34 years old and about 34 percent as 45 to 59 years old.

“It’s critical that these drivers understand the potentially deadly consequences of engaging in these types of behaviors and that they change their behavior and attitudes in order to reverse the growing number of fatalities on U.S. roads,” Dr. David Yang, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety executive director, said in a news release.

Striving for safety

Though the number of car accidents in Highlands Ranch increased from 2015 to 2016, the number of driving fatalities decreased from 17 in 2014 to 13 in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Washburn says that’s partly because of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s efforts to create a safer driving atmosphere.

In 2015, the sheriff’s office launched a program called STACC — Strategic and Tactical Analysis of Crimes and Crashes — to reduce the number of motor vehicle crashes on county roads.

The roadways in Highlands Ranch that have the most accidents, Washburn said, include Highlands Ranch Parkway and the Quebec corridor from the stretch of University Boulevard that becomes Lincoln Avenue to County Line Road.

Speeding is a problem throughout Douglas County, Washburn said, on interstates, arterial roadways, in neighborhoods and school zones.

“We really wish that drivers would be courteous. Slow down, leave some space, put down their phones and devices and pay attention to their driving,” Washburn said in an email correspondence. “We’d like it very much if drivers would concentrate on the act of driving and quit crashing into one another.”

Through STACC, the sheriff’s office issues warning cards and uses message boards, social media blasts and media releases to increase safety on the roads. Along University Boulevard, near the C-470 exit and the Highlands Ranch Parkway intersection, large message boards often warn drivers to slow down or refrain from texting.

Getting the message?

Colorado law prohibits texting for all drivers and the use of a cellphone for those under the age of 18.

The penalty for text messaging while driving is a $50 fine and one point against the driver’s license. Senate Bill 17-027, which is making its way through the state House, would increase the penalty to a $300 fine and four points against the driver’s license.

Last year, STACC reduced crashes by 4 percent overall countywideand by 11 percent in the Quebec corridor, Washburn said.

“We don’t want to go out and give tickets to everybody all day long,” Washburn said. “We want to correct the bad driving behavior.”

Highlands Ranch resident T.J. Washabaugh, 19, considers the worst problem on the roads to be texting and driving.

“Not only teenagers, but I have seen more adults — and even mothers with children in the back — texting and driving,” he said.

Washabaugh was driving through the Wildcat Reserve Parkway and Highlands Ranch Parkway intersection into the adjacent neighborhood when a driver turning left onto Wildcat Reserve crashed into his car head-on. Washabaugh had a green light — the other driver failed to yield.

Both cars were totaled. Washabaugh also had burns from the car’s airbag and a concussion, he said. The other driver received a ticket for failing to yield.

Washabaugh recovered from the crash, which happened about a year ago.

But, he said, “I still am nervous to drive through that intersection.”

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