Resort counties still among Colorado leaders in arrests for DUI, driving high charges
DUI data might not consider many variables, assistant DA says
- Summit: 3,548
- Grand: 1,671
- Rio Blanco: 1,563
- Alamosa: 1,540
- Garfield: 1,470
- Moffet: 1,380
- Ouray: 1,368
- Eagle: 1,190
- Pitkin: 1,114
- Routt: 1,107
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.
The state’s Division of Criminal Justice analyzed DUI/driving high arrests for 2017, the most recent year for available data. The equation is based on 100,000 permanent residents aged 16 years old or older, whether or not that many people live in a 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 DUI/driving high 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 who are arrested for DUI/driving high, which can inflate arrest numbers, but only for permanent residents over 16 years old, McCollum said.
Eagle County is home to just under 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 rates for arrests 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 over the age of 16, whether or not 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 drunk 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
Eagle County has had a DUI taskforce since 2007, which 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.
Statewide 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. Alcohol is faster, easier and cheaper to screen for compared to other drugs, thanks to preliminary roadside breath screenings,” the Division of Criminal Justice analysis said. “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 comprised 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 drunker 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+ (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.
- The more DUI convictions you have the more you were the more likely you are to crash. 74.2% of those sentenced to probation did not crash. Those with three or more priors crashed 26.6% of the time.