Has marijuana legalization made our roads more dangerous? At least one report maintains that Colorado's pot laws haven't led to more highway fatalities. But the Colorado State Patrol remains concerned based on statistics showing that 12.2 percent of all DUI citations issued last year involved cannabis -- although weed was often only one of the factors.
See also: Marijuana Legalization Not Causing More Highway Fatalities, Report Reveals, published August 2014
The scene of a marijuana-and-alcohol-related crash in January 2014.
Colorado State Patrol
A Colorado State Patrol summary of citations involving driving under the influence (DUI) and driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) features the following stats:
• 5,546 citations were issued for DUI/DUID driving actions.
• 354 citations were issued for DUID driving actions where marijuana was the only indicator.
• 674 citations were issued for DUI/DUID driving actions where marijuana was one of the indicators.
• The 12 month average for citations related to marijuana was 12.2 percent of the total DUI/DUID citations.
• January, April, and December were the three highest months for citations involving marijuana usage as a percentage of the overall DUI/DUID citations issued.
• 75 percent of the 2014 DUI/DUID citations issued were the result of proactive motorist contacts.
How alarming are these digits? Drilling more deeply into them offers some perspective. The total citations involving marijuana, according to the numbers above, was 674. That leaves 4,872 in which pot wasn't part of the picture -- suggesting that drinking and driving remains by far a bigger issue.
Moreover, the number of citations in which marijuana was the sole factor is 6.3 percent -- and it's impossible to know its level of culpability in instances of drivers under the influence of multiple intoxicants without looking at each case individually. Take the story of Keith Kilbey, whose arrest after a crash in January 2014 made him the poster child for stoned driving in Colorado. We later learned that in addition to being stoned, he was also incredibly drunk at the time of impact -- more than three times over the legal limit for alcohol intoxication. Blaming pot alone turned out to have offered a very incomplete story of what happened.
A DUI checkpoint in Denver circa July 2013.
Also important to note is the revelation that 75 percent of marijuana citations came as a result of "proactive motorist contacts" -- in other words, DUI checkpoints. That means only 25 percent of citations involved officers actually pulling someone over for a driving-related violation.
Even so, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Amy Ford expressed distress at the results. "Clearly this arrest data underscores the need for CDOT's Drive High, Get a DUI campaign in 2015," she stressed in a statement. A State Patrol release notes CDOT studies in which 43 percent of marijuana consumers in Colorado said it was okay to drive high, 21 percent of recreational pot users didn't realize they could get a DUI for stoned driving, and 57 percent of smokers admitted they'd climbed behind the wheel within two hours after consumption in the past. Ford added: "We won't be satisfied until everyone in Colorado takes driving high seriously, so the need for awareness and education is paramount,"
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Likewise, Colonel Scott Hernandez, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol, makes it clear the CSP won't be ramping down its focus on marijuana anytime soon. In a statement of his own, he said, "The efforts made in 2014 highlight the Colorado State Patrol's commitment to the citizens of Colorado to make the safe travel along all roads a priority. I am proud of these efforts and will continue to work with our troopers to ensure the safety of all citizens and visitors of our wonderful state."
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.