Colorado one of 10 states selected for program to improve impaired driving data

By: - August 10, 2020 6:18 pm

Cars head south on Interstate 25 in Denver during rush hour traffic on on July 23, 2020. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado will receive help from the National Governors Association to modernize its data collection practices for impaired driving. It is one of 10 states chosen to work with the NGA through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In the past, a lot of (states’ data) tracking was geared toward alcohol-related crashes and fatalities,” explained James Nash, a spokesperson for the association. Having more standardized data on drivers impaired by marijuana or other substances is intended to help state and federal governments in “making better use of data to spot trends or phenomena in different parts of the country,” Nash said.

In 2018, a CDC report found that 20.5 million Americans age 16 and older reported driving under the influence of alcohol, 12 million reported driving under the influence of marijuana, and 2.3 million reported driving under the influence of other substances.

According to a recent survey from the Colorado Department of Transportation, 22.3% of marijuana users reported driving within two to three hours of using marijuana in 2018.

Staff from the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices will work with participating states during September and October through webinars and discussions. States will “learn and share strategies to strengthen and better leverage data to address impaired driving, including tools for data collection and standardization,” according to a statement from the association.

The goal is for states to be able to “monitor and reduce traffic-related injuries.”

A 2019 report from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice noted that Colorado has “very little data” that examines the amount of each substance ingested — called a toxicological profile — for people charged with impaired driving.

“Colorado uses the National Incident-Based Reporting System to collect crime and arrest information, for which DUI (driving under the influence) and DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) are possible codes,” the report said. “However, there is no data field to capture information on BAC (blood alcohol content) or other toxicological testing.”

The state’s court system is structured to capture blood alcohol content, but doesn’t have a consistent way to collect information on other substances, such as marijuana, the report found.

Complicating this is the fact that testing for substances other than alcohol tends to be expensive. A law enforcement officer who uses a breathalyzer to determine someone’s BAC is above the legal limit normally won’t order blood tests for marijuana and other substances to avoid extra costs for the criminal justice system.

The report noted that drug testing “can also make the traffic stop take much longer, because the officer has to transport the suspect to a location where blood can be drawn, usually a hospital or emergency room.”

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.