The Colorado Department of Transportation just published its report on traffic deaths in 2015. The numbers show a 12 percent rise in traffic fatalities over 2014, and identify speeding, alcohol and an absence of seat belts as the three main causes in a total of 546 deaths.
One parameter missing from the report? Deaths stemming from stoned driving. But that isn't because the technology to determine that doesn't exist, says CDOT Highway Safety Manager Glenn Davis.
While the technology is there, local law enforcement agencies haven't hurried to use it. They're struggling to adapt to the minutiae of testing for weed, Davis says, and may still be prioritizing drunk-driving deaths — a sign of a slow culture change. And without consistent systems, it's hard to come up with reliable stats — a frequent complaint in many areas of cannabis research.
When a highway driver is arrested and found to have active marijuana in his system, the incident is reported by the Colorado State Patrol. But when a death is involved, it's up to local coroners to record the numbers — and there are often inconsistencies with those reports, says Sam Cole, CDOT's communications manager.
"Some of our coroners in Colorado are just not that good at reporting drugs — though they're really good at reporting alcohol — but they may just say that there is the presence of marijuana, which is not helpful. We're only interested in active marijuana, which is active THC," says Cole. "The data is just not at the same level of perfection as the alcohol data is."
Coroners do report about the presence of marijuana, which CDOT collects in "Drugged Driving Reports."
But CDOT does not want to release numbers that could be misleading, Cole adds, and is continuing to look for specifics, including the type of marijuana in the blood and whether the THC is active, which would indicate if pot was recently smoked. Until the reports are consistent, CDOT won't be including marijuana incidents in these reports.
For now, Cole says, CDOT is reaching out to local law enforcement to make sure reports are accurate and complete. "We're trying to steer a very big ship," he says, "and trying to get culture moved away from just focusing on alcohol to also focusing on marijuana."