Study finds high rate of DUIs in resort communities |

Study finds high rate of DUIs in resort communities

Participants in the Citizens' Police Academy administer a standardized field sobriety test to an intoxicated volunteer. A driver can be charged with a DUI in Colorado if he or she has a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher (.02 for anyone younger than 21). But DUI doesn't just apply to just alcohol; drugs, whether illegal or with a legal prescription, can also cause impairment leading to a DUI arrest.
Daily file photo

Colorado’s resort counties have some of the state’s highest arrest rates for DUI and driving high charges, but the phenomenon is not limited to the resort region, according to Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice, which analyzed DUI/driving high arrests for 2017, the most recent year for available data. The equation is based on 100,000 permanent residents 16 old or older, regardless of whether that many people live in a given county.

Using that equation, Eagle County saw 1,190 arrests related to DUI/driving high charges in 2017. It could be worse. Just over Vail Pass, Summit County’s arrest rate is three times higher, at 3,548 in 2017, the highest in the state.

Raw data does not tell all, ADA says

Assistant district attorney Heidi McCollum said there are all sorts of variables in that equation. For example, it does not tend to account for visitors arrested for DUI or driving high, which can inflate numbers but only for permanent residents older than 16, McCollum said.

Eagle County is home to almost 55,000 people, according to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, on many weekends, Eagle County will host that many people, in addition to permanent residents. That also does not include the thousands of vehicles that roll through Eagle County each day on Interstate 70, one of the major east-west thoroughfares for Colorado and the country, McCollum said.

The state data appears to support McCollum’s analysis.

However, high arrest rates tied to DUI or driving high charges is hardly a resort county phenomenon: Rio Blanco (1,563) Alamosa (1,540) and Moffat (1,380) counties all had higher arrest rates than Eagle County. So did Garfield County at 1,470.

Tiny San Juan County in remote southwest Colorado was the state’s lowest at 165 — again, based on populations of 100,000 permanent residents older than 16, regardless of whether that many people live in the county.

The calculations are part of a mandate by state lawmakers, who passed House Bill 17-1315.

Lots of data exist about drunken driving but not much about driving under the influence of marijuana, the Division of Criminal Justice study’s authors said. Legislators say they were concerned about the effects of driving high since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014. Lawmakers directed Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice to study the data annually.

Heat is still on

Since 2007, Eagle County has had a DUI task force that includes Avon police, Vail police, Eagle police, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol.

A Colorado Department of Transportation grant pays local cops to work extra shifts. Officers are looking for drunken drivers. They tend to find them.

In 2017, Colorado saw 26,454 DUI cases, down 2.9% from the 27,277 in 2016. Of those 2017 cases, 88.1% were either convicted or pleaded guilty, while 9.7% were dismissed, the Division of Criminal Justice analysis said.

Not usually testing for THC

Because it’s expensive and difficult, only 4,792 cases were screened for cannabinoids in 2017. The cost associated with testing blood for drugs can be 10 times the cost of testing for alcohol, the analysis said.

However, two-thirds of those 2017 screens found some THC, 17.4% more than in 2016, the analysis said.

“Testing for drugs is difficult and time consuming for law enforcement officers,” the Division of Criminal Justice analysis said. “Alcohol is faster, easier and cheaper to screen for compared to other drugs, thanks to preliminary roadside breath screenings. Once alcohol with a BAC level of .08 or higher is detected, law enforcement officers generally have enough evidence to reliably achieve a conviction. Therefore, officers do not consistently spend the additional money and time requesting toxicology blood testing for substances beyond alcohol.”

However, the study found that, nationally, drugs have been involved in a steadily rising number of fatal crashes: 27.8% in 2005, 32.8% in 2009, 44% in 2016.

Additional findings from 2017 data

Men made up 74.4% of defendants of all impaired driving cases in Colorado in 2017 and 88.3% of those charged with a felony DUI.

The more experience people have with DUI, the more intoxicated they tend to be when they are arrested: Those with no priors had an average BAC of 0.157. Those with three or more priors had an average BAC of 0.191.

Conviction rates were the highest for BAC values of 0.08-plus (88.2% to 95.7%).

THC was present alone or in combination with another drug in 15.7% of toxicology results in 2017.

Following alcohol and cannabis in the toxicology results, the most common drugs detected for 2017 case filings were methamphetamine, alprazolam, and cocaine.

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