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Untangling metro-area DUID statistics is a numbers game

Untangling metro-area DUID statistics is a numbers game
Jeremy Pinto and Jenny Kush loved cannabis and each other.

In a nineteen-day crackdown between August 16 and September 3, law enforcement agencies across the state reported a total of 1,321 impaired-driving arrests to the Colorado Department of Transportation. During that time, CDOT estimates, there were ten alcohol-related driving fatalities, two of them in Denver.

One of those was Jenny Kush, killed when a car going the wrong way in an I-25 HOV lane crashed into the vehicle in which Kush was a passenger. Arrested at the scene and charged with vehicular homicide, Rebecca Maez told police she'd downed an entire bottle of vodka and been kicked out of a bar before she got behind the wheel of a borrowed car ("The Harshest Hit," September 19).

That a confessed drunk driver ended the life of cannabis advocate Kush seemed a brutally poignant illustration of the dangers of alcohol compared to those of marijuana. Lawmakers pushing for harsher measures to punish drivers who've consumed cannabis assert that the number of marijuana-connected accidents is skyrocketing but do the numbers back up those claims?

Recent laws passed to punish marijuana-consuming drivers in this state were predicated on a "highway Armageddon" that just doesn't exist, says former state senator Bob Hagedorn, who sponsored legislation creating the Persistent Drunk Driving Act in 1999, and politicians who continue to exaggerate the dangers of marijuana run the risk of killing any sensible debate on the issue.

"We have the opportunity to address this potentially serious issue calmly and head-on," Hagedorn wrote last month in an essay published in the Denver Post. "But for efforts to be effective, credible and realistic, they must be based on evidence and real science. Using scare tactics will serve no purpose beyond hindering sensible and wise thought."

Is it possible to get hard evidence? Westword decided to look at the Labor Day-related crackdown to determine which arrests involved drivers suspected to be impaired by alcohol and which by marijuana. But coming up with real science wasn't easy.

Emily Wilfong, spokeswoman for CDOT, says that dividing the 1,321 impaired-driving arrests reported during that period into those involving alcohol and those involving drugs is more complicated than studying a central database.

For starters, there isn't a central database.

CDOT only collects data from law enforcement agencies that receive department funding for "enforcement activities" like seat-belt campaigns and DUI-awareness weekends. If a department didn't receive CDOT money for the Labor Day campaign the Boulder Police Department, for instance it didn't report its arrest data.

And when a law enforcement agency does report data to CDOT, there is no set format; it can supply as much or as little detail as it chooses. For example, some simply report the total number of DUI-related arrests for both drugs and alcohol, while others break the total down into DUI-alcohol and DUI-drug arrests. But even then, few report whether the DUID arrests were for marijuana or something like prescription drugs or meth.

To get such a breakdown, we contacted every agency in the metro area that had reported impaired-driving arrests for that Labor Day period to CDOT. Although it was impossible to get specifics from all of them, the big five — the cities of Denver and Aurora, and the counties of Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams — were able to break down how many arrests were marijuana-related and how many were due to booze.

In Aurora, out of 141 DUI-related arrests, eight were suspected marijuana DUIDs; seven other DUID charges were for people suspected of driving under the influence of prescription drugs, cocaine and inhalants. The other 126 arrests were for alcohol.

In Adams County, only one of 38 DUI arrests during the period was marijuana-related, according to Sergeant Paul Gregory of the Adams County Sheriff's Department.

In Jefferson County, one out of six total DUI arrests was related to marijuana. Arapahoe County had seventeen total DUI arrests; two were marijuana-related.

And in Denver, where Kush was killed over Labor Day weekend by an alleged drunk driver, there were a total of 157 DUIs — only one of which was marijuana-related. That case, which is still pending, didn't involve anything as major as vehicular homicide; the driver was stopped for "turning improperly."

But those numbers don't tell the whole story, either.

Who an officer decides to test, and how, varies from department to department and is often up to an officer's discretion. If a cop stops a swerving driver and doesn't smell booze but does smell pot, he may push for a blood test. But while it isn't uncommon for police to suspect both marijuana and alcohol in a case, they may just charge a driver with a DUI for alcohol because it is easier and cheaper to prove. That's often the situation in Denver, according to Mary Dulacki, records coordinator for the Denver Police Department. And Wilfong confirms that's frequently the case with other departments reporting to CDOT.

"The lieutenant says that to do a drug test on blood is $200 or something like that, or they could do a DUI alcohol test for like five bucks," says one law enforcement official. "Most of the time, if it is a combination of the two, they'll get charged with the alcohol. There's no need to do the [marijuana] test at that point because you can't charge them with the same crime twice."

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22 comments
cannawes
cannawes

So an impressive 3.6% of impaired-driving arrests for that Labor Day period were for DUI-THC, with another 1.9% for other drugs. Way to go CDOT, your program to reduce drugged driving has been an outstanding success, and you can now go back to focusing on the 94.4% of drivers who are alcohol impaired.

Zed Lepplin
Zed Lepplin

Fun with numbers. Twenty percent of all elected leaders have sex with animals.

cannawes
cannawes

"According to CDOT, the number of cannabis-consuming drivers involved in fatal crashes increased from 27 out of 535 fatal accidents in 2006 to 35 out of 472 accidents in 2012." 

Tell the whole truth CDOT, it was also a decline of 35% since 2011.

Jen Stretch
Jen Stretch

Such freakin BS... stop fighting it with BS!!!!

Sterling Meeks
Sterling Meeks

...or people who fiddle with their dumbphones or their stereo/entertainment panel or people who constantly scream at their whiny bastard children in the back seat or people who slow down in traffic to gawk at roadside accidents or police pullovers...the list goes on and on...

Garrett Betts
Garrett Betts

Stoned drivers?, or people with THC in their system that could have been from two weeks ago? These studies can't tell the difference anyway so the results are meaningless.

Mane Rok
Mane Rok

Is there a comparison being made to those other "drugs"? Most importantly-prescribed drugs?

Loghome Finishing
Loghome Finishing

I'm proud to say that I've smoked about ten bong hits before driving every day and often smoke hash the entire time while driving. You learn in High School to drive high.

JimTom
JimTom topcommenter

When are they going to start giving out DWWP? Every time I get cut off or see something completely ignorant on the roads 80% of the time it is a women with a phone in hand or stuck to her head. Why does it seem most women don't think all the laws about distracted driving don't apply to them?
I guaranty my stoned driving is far superior to what i see every day from people with phones.

Sara Webb
Sara Webb

It's crazy what people will focus on because it's called a drug. Like all of the previously mentioned factors like texting, caffeine, smoking or any other distraction hasn't killed 1,000's of people.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Thank Jah that the Authors of A64 and the clueless stoner supporters and Voters who passed that piece of crap explicitly declared in A64 that Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana Shall REMAIN ILLEGAL !! 

... without bothering define and set any reasonable objective standard for "under the influence" thereby leaving that determination up to the Prohibitionist Politicians, Law Enforcement goons and the For Profit DUI industry.

A64 = Epic FAIL!

Stupid Stoners DESERVE to have this obscenity rammed up their ass -- They VOTED FOR IT!

.

Ski Steve
Ski Steve

What's the cell phone stat? Oh, nm, they probably meant if you bent over to use the bong while driving.

mattleising
mattleising topcommenter

It's good to see some real studies coming out that support the idea the popular (and correct) thought that driving under the influence of alcohol is much more dangerous than that of people driving under the influence of cannabis. Now, hopefully, we can start getting away from fear based legislation and start passing legislation that actually supports findings such as these and, again hopefully, charges for such crimes will reflect these studies as well. Punishments for driving under the influence of cannabis should in no way mimic those of driving under the influence of alcohol. Cannabis drivers should receive lighter sentences than that those under the influence of alcohol and the numbers support that.

Ed Haas
Ed Haas

Two times? Makes me wonder what the stats would be for people on caffeine, or people who have a cigarette in one hand...

irq77
irq77

I enjoyed that William.  An informed, newsworthy article.  A lot of great points that actually talk about the issue free from the fear/hysteria elements.  Keep up the good work.

Donkey_Hotay_is_GOD
Donkey_Hotay_is_GOD

Hey Billy, you forgot to cross-link and category tag your story to : Marijuana, Crime, etc.

You won't get half the readers if you continue to forget to categorize your stories with hyperlinks, as you habitually do with "Ask a Stupid Stoner" ... or are you so ashamed of that inane nonsense that you deliberately attempt to hide it from casual readers?

Your pal,

DHiG



Donkey_Hotay_is_GOD
Donkey_Hotay_is_GOD

DUI-marijuana, as deliberately proscribed by A64, is EXACTLY what the lying liars who wrote that piece of crap, and clueless stoners who voted for it, DEMANDED!

Remember, the lying liars Vicente and Tvert promised A64 would eliminate "10,000 arrests every year" in Colorado for marijuana crimes ... so these DUI-marijuana arrests aren't actually happening, it's just another delusion.

DUI-marijuana = keeping the Marijuana McLawyers rolling in $$$ now and forever

Thanks A64 !!



elkabong
elkabong

If your stoned driving is anything like your stoned spelling, you FAIL!

AgendaBuster
AgendaBuster

Ed Haas: 

If it's $200 to test for dope, testing for caffeine or sugar could be even more.

 They'll just bust the boozers it's cheaper and easier. Plus they seldom fight back at over $10,000 to fight a Booze Bust.

 
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