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Stoned Driving Fatalities Go Down in Colorado for Drivers Over the Legal Limit

Stoned Driving Fatalities Go Down in Colorado for Drivers Over the Legal Limit
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The number of fatalities involving at least one driver over the legal limit for marijuana impairment in Colorado went down from 2016 to 2017. However, such fatalities are up during the same period for those testing positive for cannabis use at levels either above or below that limit. And the inconsistencies in regard to the collection of the information makes the scope of the issue unclear.

Those are among the revelations contained in new data from the Colorado Department of Transportation. But while CDOT spokesperson Sam Cole acknowledges that its digits leave plenty of room for interpretation, he doesn't see any ambiguity when it comes to the bottom line.

"Marijuana and driving is still a huge problem in Colorado," Cole maintains. "About 10 percent of our fatalities involve a driver who was at or above the legal limit for active THC, and we need to get that number way down. Any fatality above zero is one fatality too many."

He acknowledges that "alcohol is the bigger problem, but marijuana can be incredibly dangerous, too, and has proven to be incredibly dangerous on our roadways."

Pinpointing the level of danger remains difficult, though. As you can see by the following table, the percentage of traffic fatalities in which at least one driver was drug-tested hovered between 65 and 68 percent from 2013 to 2017, and the percentage of actual drivers drug-tested was lower, vacillating between 45 and 47 percent. Alcohol testing was a bit higher by each metric: 68 to 72 percent in fatalities, 46 to 54 percent when counting drivers.

Here's a table showing the results:

click to enlarge COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Colorado Department of Transportation
Cole's comment that alcohol is currently more problematic than marijuana in terms of traffic fatalities is borne out by the following table.

As you can see, fatalities involving a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above, the legal limit for intoxication in Colorado, has ratcheted up steadily over the three most recent years for which final digits were available — 151 in 2015, 161 in 2016 and 171 in 2017 — even as their percentage of the overall total slipped by 1 percent each year.
click to enlarge COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Colorado Department of Transportation

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts