The state ranks 13 among all states for its rate of drunken driving, and pot-impaired accidents have nearly doubled since 2014.
Colorado is one of ten states recently selected by the National Governors Association to participate in an initiative to improve the collection and application of data about impaired driving. Although Colorado auto accidents have dropped over the past 20 years, the state’s progress in reducing traffic fatalities caused by impaired drivers has been uneven.
Driving Impaired in Colorado
It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol or pot in Colorado. Of course, drivers do not invariably obey these prohibitions. Colorado ranks 13 among all states for its rate of drunken driving in 2018, with 411 DUI-related arrests per 100,000 people. The number one or worst state for drunken driving was South Dakota: 721.9 arrests per 100,000 people. Delaware had the nation’s lowest DUI rate: 44.3 arrests per 100,000 people.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reports that 31 traffic-accident fatalities in 2018 involved Colorado drivers who tested over the legal limit for THC, a component of cannabis. The number of pot-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes has nearly doubled since 2014, when voters approved a ballot question to legalize marijuana in the state. There were 75 such deaths in 2014, 139 in 2017.
According to the CDOT’s report The 2020 Cannabis Conversation, the result of surveying thousands of Coloradoans, most people who don’t use cannabis are uncomfortable with the idea of others driving under the influence of the drug. But those who drive after using marijuana tend to dismiss research indicating the dangers of driving while under the influence of cannabis (DWIC). Some even contend that cannabis improves reaction time and driving ability.
Detecting Alcohol and Marijuana Impairment
Tests of blood alcohol content (BAC) enable law enforcers and medical professionals to determine the percentage of alcohol present in a driver’s bloodstream. BAC can be tested using breath, urine, or blood. Although the breath test is the easiest to perform, the blood test is the most accurate. All states have laws according to which a driver is intoxicated if his BAC is 0.08 g/dL or higher. In Colorado, if a driver is determined to have a BAC between 0.05 and 0.79 percent, he can be charged with driving while ability-impaired (DWAI). If his BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, he can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Testing for impairment induced by marijuana is more complicated. It is unclear exactly how the drug impairs driving ability and at what point an individual is too high to drive, which makes it harder for a police officer to accurately test for this kind of impairment during traffic stops. According to Colorado law, however, a driver can be prosecuted for DWIC if his blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active THC, the ingredient of marijuana that causes psychoactive effects.
Marijuana users, particularly those who use it for medicinal purposes, worry that they may test over the legal limit even if they are not impaired. Their concern is not idle. A 2018 CDOT study found that the mere presence of a cannabinoid “does not necessarily indicate recent use of marijuana or impairment.”
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving an impaired driver, contact personal injury attorney Dan Rosen at (303) 454-8000 or (800) ROSEN-911 to schedule your free initial consultation to discuss the details of your case.