Figures recently released by the Colorado State Patrol indicate that lowering nighttime speed limits on Colorado Highway 13 produced the results that law enforcement expected.
Since May 2, State Patrol troopers have enforced a 55 mph speed limit on Colo. 13 south between Craig and Meeker. The goal of lowering the speed limit at night was to reduce the number of deer versus automobile accidents on the stretch of highway often referred to as "pinball alley."
The test area spans from the Garfield County line to the Wyoming border. The speed limit is 65 mph during the day.
"We've seen a big decrease between October of last year and October of this year," State Patrol Capt. Brett Williams said.
Records show 147 animal-related accidents in October 2004 compared with 114 such accidents in October 2005 in Colorado. On this stretch of Colo. 13, there were 35 accidents in October 2004 and 20 in October 2005. State Patrol troopers attribute this to the lower speed limit.
"We had a little grumbling from drivers when it took effect" Williams said. "But that was mostly due to misconceptions that it was a 24-hour limit."
In Rio Blanco County, the number of animal versus car accidents has decreased despite a 14 percent increase in traffic, Williams said. Oil and gas exploration projects and pipeline traffic are likely the reason for the traffic increase.
"I think (the Colorado Dep-art--ment of Transportation) is looking for one year of statistics before making any decisions" Williams said. "We've been enforcing it (the speed limit) pretty hard, between us and the Rio Blanco sheriffs."
Although Moffat County sheriff's deputies regularly patrol Colo. 13, the State Patrol is responsible for investigating all traffic accidents.
"Our guys have a favorite spot to sit and radar, and for the most part, people obey the speed limit," said Moffat County sheriff's Sgt. Rick Holford. "You have a few people who are so used to the 65 mph speed limit that they just ignore the change."
Overall, Holford thinks the publicity about the number of animals on the roadway and the reduced speed limit has been sufficient to make most drivers aware of the rules.
"Everybody knows what the speed limit is," he said. "With some people, it doesn't matter what you set the speed limit at, they'll drive the speed they want to."
He also noted that most residents of Northwest Colorado drive slower at night anyway, because of all the animals near the roadway.
The nighttime speed limits cover 110 miles of Colo. 13, including all stretches in Moffat County.