More reckless drinking or better law enforcement? Statistics raise questions about the reasons for high rates of DUI arrests near Colorado ski resorts.

Per Capita Drunk-Driving Arrests High in Colorado Resort Towns

Colorado ski slopes, and the resort towns around them, are known for great beauty and winter fun. In light of their appeal to carefree vacationers, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that they can be associated with something else: drunk driving.

Colorado ski destinations outrank the rest of the state for the per-capita number of DUI arrests, according to reporting by Randy Wyrick of the Vail Daily newspaper. The conclusion relies heavily on statewide statistics compiled by a DUI defense attorney. And although the methodology isn’t scientific, it does strongly suggest that ski resorts, drinking and, therefore, drunk driving go together.

The attorney gathered data from courts across Colorado and cross-linked it with population information from the state demographer’s office to map DUI frequencies. The hotspots turn out to be Colorado’s Central Rockies resort region.

Whereas the 9th Judicial District, made up of Garfield, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties averaged 7.85 DUI arrests per every 1,000 residents, the 5th Judicial District — Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake, and Summit counties — averaged 8.78 arrests per 1,000 residents.

The 2nd Judicial District, Denver, had only 2.84 arrests per every 1,000 residents.

Seasonal Populations, Seasonal Enforcement

While the 5th District finding is based on census estimate of 104,000 residents, Avon Police Chief Greg Daly emphasized to the newspaper that the population figure may or may not include the more than 50,000 resort employees and visitors who come to the county each winter. Nor does the study measure the relative efforts by law enforcement in each region to arrest drunken drivers. Are there more drunks in ski counties or do police there just work harder to nab them?

Daly said:

“It’s a combination of both. There is a sense that this is a party county, with the ski resorts and the party lifestyle that attracts.”

Some emphasize the importance of good law-enforcement. Eagle County police departments formed a DUI task force in 2007 with the sheriff’s office and state patrol. The departments are also active participants in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Heat is On program. It helps police agencies pay overtime for publicized, targeted DUI patrols and checkpoints during holiday periods when drinking is most popular.

Daly says the drunk-driving problem is the fault of local residents, who don’t use other modes of transit, such as ride-sharing services and the bus.

Drinking Creates a Constant Threat

Nearly 29 people die each day from drunk-driving accidents across the United States, the equivalent of one person every 50 minutes in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The fatalities have fallen by one-third over the past 30 years, but alcohol-related auto accidents still claim more than 10,000 lives per year.

Colorado Drunk Driving Hotspots Ranked

Here’s a breakdown of the Colorado districts with the highest DUI rates, per every 1,000 residents:

  • 5th Judicial District: Clear Creek, Eagle (Vail), Lake and Summit (Breckenridge) counties; 78 arrests per 1,000 residents.
  • 6th Judicial District: Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan (Silverton) counties; 04 arrests per 1,000 residents.
  • 9th Judicial District: Garfield, Pitkin (Aspen) and Rio Blanco counties; 85 arrests per 1,000 residents.
  • 14th Judicial District: Grand (Winter Park), Moffat and Routt (Steamboat Springs) counties; 59 arrests per 1,000 residents.
  • 22nd Judicial District: Dolores, Montezuma counties; 98 arrests per 1,000 residents.
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