Colorado Transportation, Safety Officials Still Cautious
Are Colorado pot smokers waiting long enough to come down off of their highs before hitting the road, or are they just avoiding being caught driving under the influence?
That’s the conundrum that’s facing Colorado’s transportation and public safety officials, who say marijuana DUI citations declined in early 2017, compared with the same period last year.
The trouble is that a state survey of drivers who smoke pot indicates that they’re OK with getting high and driving.
Colorado issued 33.2 percent fewer citations for driving under the influence of marijuana in the first three months of 2017 than it did in the same period in 2016, according to reporting by the Denver Post’s Hayley Sanchez. The Colorado State Patrol issued 232 marijuana DUIs in the first quarter of 2016 and only 155 in early 2017. The number of driving arrests for combined use of alcohol and pot also decreased, from 69 in early 2016 to 50 in early 2017.
A month-to-month comparison between March 2016 and March 2017 gives additional credence to the idea of a true downward trend of abuse. In March 2016, citations for driving while high made up 17.8 percent of the total 337 DUI citations, the Denver Post reported. Twelve months later, they were down to 16.4 percent of the 396 citations for driving while under the influence.
The most vital statistic: The number of fatal auto accidents related to combined pot and alcohol use dropped from seven to three between the two periods.
Risky Behavior Acknowledged
The statistics still leave room for state officials to be concerned. Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Sam Cole told the Denver Post:
“We’re still troubled by the fact that marijuana users are still telling us they routinely drive high. We’re pleased with the awareness, but we’re not so pleased with the behaviors that are actually happening.”
Cole was referring to CDOT’s 2016 survey of state drivers’ views on risky driving behaviors, including smoking pot and driving.
The survey shows that 57 percent of the participating Colorado drivers who said they used marijuana also said they had recently driven a motor vehicle within two hours of consuming marijuana.
Only 16 percent of the participants thought they could drive safely under the influence of marijuana, however. That’s compared with 12 percent who thought they could drive safely while under the influence of alcohol and 17 percent who thought they could drive safely while taking certain prescription medications.
Younger adults were more likely than older adults to think they could still drive safely after consuming marijuana or alcohol.
Colorado’s Law Enforcement is Watching Closely
“Are the citations going down? Yeah, but is the number of people using marijuana and then driving going down? I don’t know how to quantify that,” Colorado State Patrol spokesman Nate Reid told the Denver Post.
While legal recreational use of marijuana is a recent thing, Reid said, State Patrol officers have long experience in detecting impaired drivers. Reid added:
“There’s no sure sign somebody is impaired by alcohol or drugs. It’s the trooper’s personal contact after a stop, along with their driving behavior. Troopers have been trained in advance for detecting alcohol and marijuana and other prescription drugs.”