(Jan. 11, 2022) The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) has published a report analyzing more than 26,000 impaired driving cases that were filed in Colorado in 2019, following the cases from arrest through final court outcome.
“Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol, A Report Pursuant to House Bill 17-1315” is the fourth report published by DCJ as mandated by HB 17-1315. This report is published with a lag in order to allow enough time to follow most cases through final court disposition.
This year’s report reflects the increase in comprehensive toxicology data made possible by the 2019 launch of free alcohol and drug testing offered by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to all Colorado law enforcement agencies investigating suspected impaired driving cases. Previously, agencies paid between $200 and $500 for drug testing depending on the complexity of the case. This change, paid for by Marijuana Tax Cash funding, has resulted in annual cost savings to local law enforcement agencies of roughly $1.7 million to $3 million in toxicology testing fees.
Colorado continues to have high conviction rates (88%) for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charges. Cases with toxicology results showing concentrations of substances that exceed the legal limits have particularly high conviction rates: 96% for alcohol, 92% for Delta-9 THC (the impairing substance in marijuana), and 92% for polydrug.
“Providing Colorado’s law enforcement agencies with free toxicology testing has resulted in more comprehensive data that has multiple benefits. Having consistent, detailed testing results for all impaired driving cases can help in the successful prosecution of these dangerous drivers. This information also helps law enforcement understand broader trends in substance use in our communities,” said Stan Hilkey, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety. “While we are glad to see that impaired drivers are not getting away with this serious crime, we continue to be concerned by the prevalence of people who think it’s okay to drive while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”
The Colorado State Patrol has found that impaired driving consistently remains a top causal factor for injury and fatal crashes across Colorado. In June, the Patrol ran a DUI focused campaign to kick off the summer season. Then during the month of December, the Patrol ran a larger impaired driving public awareness campaign, along with increased enforcement. Throughout the year, the State Patrol uses ongoing data to help determine enforcement priorities and regularly partners with local agencies for checkpoints and high-visibility enforcement.
“Injuries and deaths due to impaired driving are senseless, because they are entirely preventable,” said Col. Matthew C. Packard, Chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “Drivers must take responsibility and plan for an alternative ride if they drink alcohol or consume cannabis. Families and friends can also help ensure that there is a sober driver, a ride share, or a safe place to stay if someone they love is impaired. Let's make 2022 the year that impaired driving becomes history.”
DATA HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE REPORT:
Arrests, charges and outcomes:
- In 2019, Colorado prosecutors filed 26,165 cases with at least one DUI charge.
- Colorado had a high conviction rate for DUI charges (88%), with increasing convictions for charges associated with high Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) results (96%), high Delta 9-THC results (92%), and high polydrug results (92%).
- Consistent with trends since 2016, the counties with the highest number of DUI case filings were El Paso (3,616), Adams (2,817), Larimer (2,344), Jefferson (2,306), Denver (1,817) and Arapahoe (1,763). Counties with the highest rates of DUI case filings per population were Gilpin, Kiowa, Huerfano, Clear Creek, and Summit.
- With its statewide jurisdiction, the Colorado State Patrol had the highest proportion of arrests among law enforcement agencies (5,242).
- Of cases with a DUI conviction, 37% had at least one prior DUI arrest.
- Sentences varied based on the severity of the offense. Felony DUI sentences were on average 1,254 days in community corrections and 1,455 days in prison.
- Three out of four cases involved males. Across all age groups, males had case filing rates between 2.5 and 3.7 times higher than females.
- Individuals in the 26-34 age category accounted for 31% of all DUI court filings. The rate of case filings by population peaked in the 21-25 age range and then declined.
- Although there were more case filings for drivers in their 20s, drivers in their late 40s tended to face more serious charges, largely due to felonies associated with three or more prior convictions.
- After the launch of free toxicology testing, CBI found no change in the alcohol results in DUI cases, but identified both a 14% increase in cases with Delta-9 THC and polydrug results.
- Of the 6,071 cases with toxicology screens for marijuana, 52% tested positive for any cannabinoid, including Delta 9-THC.
- This is a decrease in the positivity rate compared to prior years (73% in 2016 and 66% in 2017 and 2018), possibly due to the higher sample size (testing all impaired drivers rather than just those suspected of marijuana impairment).
- Of the drivers who tested positive for Delta-9 THC, nearly 50% had levels above the legal limit of 5 ng/mL.
- 68% of individuals with detected Delta-9 THC also had some other substance present. Alcohol was the most common co-occurring substance: of those who tested positive for more than one impairing substance, more than three quarters tested positive for alcohol in addition to Delta 9-THC.
- Methamphetamine was the top impairing substance detected after alcohol and marijuana, showing up in a quarter of cases screened for drugs.
- Although the number of cases involving Schedule I drugs such as heroin was small as a portion of total cases, they increased significantly from 2016 to 2019. There were 160 cases in 2019 where these drugs were detected - three times the number in 2018 and nearly six times the number in 2016.
- Drivers who were convicted of a DUI and tested positive for multiple impairing substances had the highest crash rates (40%) among convicted drivers. Crash involvement was lowest among drivers who tested positive for only Delta 9-THC (10%) among convicted drivers.