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A crackdown on DUIs: Still the #1 traffic woe even in the era of legal pot

Author: Dan Njegomir - May 2, 2017 - Updated: June 6, 2017


Just as the state Senate had agreed to tighten the screws on driving drunk in Colorado, the national Mothers Against Drunk Driving issued a public statement Monday afternoon reminding everyone that alcohol is “still the biggest cause of traffic deaths and injuries in the nation.” Even in the era of legalized pot.

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The advocacy group says it is setting the record straight amid some confusion over new statistics that are making the rounds in the nation’s news media:

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released an update last week to its 2015 drug impaired driving report. As a result, some media coverage has suggested that drugged driving has overtaken drunk driving in terms of traffic fatalities.

…According to the GHSA report, drugs were found in 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes compared to 37 percent (for alcohol). This does not mean that more crashes were caused by drugged driving than drunk driving. 

The press statement by MADD cites a list of reasons as to why that’s so, including:

The tests for drugs and alcohol and the data reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) are completely different. They do not provide an apples to apples comparison…

Tests for drugs (other than alcohol) can detect presence of a wide range of drugs, from illegal substances to over the counter and prescribed medications which may or may not have been misused. And unlike alcohol, there is no measure of the amount of the drug.

The presence of drugs found in a driver’s system does not mean impairment, nor does it imply that drug use was the cause of the crash. Drug tests may not reflect recent use, but use days ago. Currently, there is no way to distinguish presence of drugs and impairment.

Clear enough?

The state Senate meanwhile unanimously passed the bipartisan House Bill 1288, stepping up penalties for driving drunk. The measure, co-sponsored in the upper chamber by Republican state Sen. John Cooke of Greeley (he’s a former Weld County sheriff) and Democratic state Sen. Lois Court of Denver, is aimed at habitual offenders.

A Senate GOP press release offered details:

HB 1288 requires courts sentence criminals who commit class 4 felony DUI or have been charged with four subsequent DUIs to up to 2 years, and no less than 90 days in the Department of Corrections.

The bill also mandates additional community service requirements of up to 120 hours, as well as further drug and alcohol safety classes.

The GOP press statement also noted that in 2017, DUI fatalities were already up 6.5 percent, with 34,140 citations issued to impaired motorists.

The legislation, unamended in the Senate, was approved previously by the House, where it started. It now goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper for his signature.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.

One comment

  • Robert Chase

    May 2, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    “… even in the era of legal pot” — can’t keep the ignorant editorializing out of even the headlines! Sure, many of your readers share your mistaken beliefs about cannabis’ effect on traffic safety, but the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration does not; it has declared that cannabis is not a significant threat to traffic safety. Your determination to reinforce irrational fears of cannabis obtruded itself into the headline of an article ostensibly about a genuine threat; other than the fact that cannabis drives those who do not use it completely insane, why?

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