Colorado, Feds Partner to Stop Drunk, Drugged and "Drowsy" Driving

Courtesy of the Colorado Governor's Office
Colorado and the federal government don't always see to eye to eye regarding marijuana regulation, but both sides agree on the dangers of drugged driving. Law enforcement and traffic-safety organizations across the country have become increasingly worried about drivers mixing alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just partnered with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol for a new safety campaign.

Dubbed "If You Feel Different, You Drive Different,” the campaign made its debut on Tuesday, October 9, at the State Capitol Building, with the support of Governor John Hickenlooper and several CDOT and Colorado State Patrol officials. Hickenlooper, who has a sixteen-year-old son, says he frequently warns him about irresponsible drivers on the road as well as the dangers of "drowsy driving." 

"The federal government is learning from Colorado. We look forward to addressing these problems together," Hickenlooper said. "I can't think of a more pivotal time than right now for addressing the notion of drugged or drowsy driving."

The governor told the gathering that around 800,000 more people are using Colorado roads today than were in 2010, and the roads definitely seem less safe. On a recent trip to La Junta, Hickenlooper said that he noticed a car swerving and weaving in front of him on I-25. Worried that the driver was impaired, Hickenlooper's police escort pulled the woman over and detained her until local authorities arrived (the officers with Hickenlooper were out of their jurisdiction). The driver ended up having a blood-alcohol level of 0.26, more than three times the legal limit.

Hickenlooper said he wants the state to start moving toward "zero tolerance" for driving under the influence of marijuana and/or alcohol, and added that he wants to continue investigating methods to reduce drugged driving.

CDOT, which has been analyzing data about active THC in drivers' blood since 2016, has a jump on the feds when it comes to educating the public about marijuana-impaired driving. According to NHTSA, Colorado's data has been a useful tool in its awareness efforts. CDOT has helped train over 3,000 Colorado police officers in the NHTSA's Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement, CDOT executive director Michael Lewis said, providing education on how to detect drugged drivers; more than 15,000 people have participated in various surveys and town halls on impaired driving, as well.

According to State Patrol Lieutenant Colonel Barry Bratt, 455 people died on Colorado roads from the beginning of 2018 through October 1, and around 25 percent of those deaths were related to some sort of impairment. "Every life lost is more than just a number; it's a tragedy," Bratt explained, adding that prescription drugs are also a threat to road safety. "We're going to be doing our best to find you, arrest you and get you off the road."

While the government's public efforts center on awareness and responsible choices, law enforcement and marijuana users continue to wrestle with Colorado's legal blood limit for THC, the main psychoactive component in the plant. The current maximum amount of THC allowed in a driver's blood, 5 nanograms, has proven to be inaccurate for regular consumers and rare users. Hickenlooper noted that "setting an arbitrary number is never going to be perfect," and expressed a desire for more accurate information about scientifically detecting marijuana impairment.

Still, the governor has little sympathy for those who put themselves in a compromising situation or don't play it safe. "The bottom line is if you have 5 nanograms in your blood, then you shouldn't be driving," he said. "The word 'drowsy' needs to become more emotionally charged."