Glenwood Canyon collision data and Glenwood Springs City Council plan of action

Commercial vehicle crash on Westbound Interstate 70 near Dotsero on Jan. 17.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Department of Transporation

This article headline was changed for clarity

The Colorado Department of Transportation has been assessing crashes in Glenwood Canyon and along Interstate 70 to figure out the main times, causes and locations of each incident.

What they found was that all of the crashes in the canyon were due to speeding. Meanwhile, 22% of canyon closures were due to collisions with commercial motor vehicles (CMV), according to Elise Thatcher, CDOT’s region three communications manager.

“In order to assess how often CMV crashes lead to closures, we cross-checked multiple data sets,” Thatcher said in an email. “CDOT reviewed closure data that our system captures and as well as crash data from Colorado State Patrol.” 

Earlier this year, CDOT originally reported 197 partial or full closures, with at least 70 of them involving CMVs. After assessing and cross checking data, their data set showed lower numbers. 

In their final findings for canyon closures between Jan. 30, 2021-Jan. 30, 2023, from Dotsero to West Glenwood, there were only 179 collisions that caused a partial or full closure in the canyon, and of those, only 39 were commercial motor vehicles. 

“We also reviewed photo archives to confirm which crashes in the canyon included a CMV,” Thatcher wrote. “This review requires many hours by more than one team but leads to more accurate data.” 

From the data they gathered, CDOT is able to work with the Colorado State Patrol to direct convoys through the canyon during the most dangerous road conditions. CSP has also been cracking down on speeders and CMVs violating the left lane restriction in the canyon. 

Although CDOT found that CMVs were only at fault for 22% of the canyon closure, they are the ones that create the longest and most expensive closures for the canyon. 

“These are the closures that tend to shut everything down and shut everything down for longer,” CDOT Communications Director Matt Inzeo said.

CDOT found that over the past five years, Wednesdays had the highest number of crashes on the Western Slope of I-70 between January and March, and they were also able to pinpoint times for state patrol to focus on when crashes are most likely to happen.

The top three contributing factors in crashes along the Western Slope I-70 corridor in Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties from January through March were speeding, lane violations and following too closely.

Speeds in Glenwood Canyon are variable to weather and changed electronically by CDOT as drivers enter the canyon from either direction.

“Speeding is an ignored safety problem impacting our communities,” Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Jessica Bruce said in a news release. “Driving above the limit or too fast for road conditions reduces your ability to safely operate your vehicle and a crash with potential life altering consequences.” 

Quick tips from CDOT include: drive the speed limit, keep more space to the front and sides of your vehicle (more than you think), don’t drive distracted or impaired and curb your emotions to keep from getting aggressive on the road.

Glenwood City Council suggestions to state legislation

On March 2, Glenwood Springs City Council discussed language they want to send to state legislation for law changes that might help crack down on offenders who are creating canyon closures. 

Councilor Tony Hershey, who is also a district attorney for Garfield County, suggested bigger penalties for speeders. He recommended that mandatory jail time for CMV drivers might be more impactful.

He said many of the CMV drivers who go into court don’t live here and are able to just get on Webex without feeling the full impact of their actions. 

“Encourage an increase in points and increase in fines, and then, encourage the district attorney’s office or the prosecutors throughout the I-70 corridor, the 5th Judicial, to impose jail time, then these guys are going to learn they have to come back here, they have to serve 10 days in jail,” Hershey said. “That’s painful.”

“I think it would be worthwhile for them to consider some kinds of civil sanctions against the motor carrier companies,” City Attorney Karl Hanlon said.

He said that after attending a recent CDOT presentation, he noticed that the motor carrier lobby is big on trying to minimize their impact, and when the companies treat their employees as disposable, they don’t care as much when their drivers are the one’s being penalized. 

“The motor carrier lobby is big on trying to minimize the impacts to them, blame somebody else, whatever, and most of these have been company trucks,” Hanlon said. “There’s a shortage right now, but in any large company, a driver is fungible. So they lose their license, they lose their livelihood, the motor carrier company doesn’t really care that much. I think that we need to also think about how we tag them with something that is meaningful to change their behavior, and their attitude towards their drivers.”

Council unanimously voted to have the language to legislation create bigger penalties for lane violations and speeding, to consider cameras and automated ticketing for speeding and enforcement. They also added higher fines and points off of driver’s licenses, and then civil liability for carriers.

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