Drunk and drunker: Colorado ski resort towns lead state in DUI arrest rate
EAGLE COUNTY — Folks in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District lead the state in drunken driving arrests per capita.
So, are we the drunkest section of the Centennial State, or are our law enforcement officers working harder at it?
All of the above, said local law enforcement officials.
“It’s a combination of both,” said Greg Daly, Avon Police chief. “There is a sense that this is a party county with the ski resorts and the party lifestyle that attracts.”
Attorney Jay Tiftickjian’s law firm crunched the data from the Colorado State Demographer’s Office and Colorado Courts to create an interactive map. They found that Colorado’s Central Rockies resort region leads the state in the rate of DUI arrests:
• 8.8 per 1,000 residents in the 5th Judicial District: Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties.
• 7.9 per 1,000 residents in the 9th Judicial District: Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
The study is based on the Census data that 104,000 people live in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District.
“That does not necessarily count the 50,000 employees and visitors that come into the county during the winter,” Daly said.
HEAT IS ON
Eagle County law enforcement is part of a statewide program to find and stop drunken drivers.
“I think it has to do with the Heat is On campaign and hours we put in on the state program,” said Det. Luke Causey, with the Vail Police Department.
As part of that, Eagle County has a DUI taskforce, an initiative started in 2007 by former Avon Police Chief Brian Kozak. It 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 patrolling and are highly visible, and they’re looking for drunken drivers. They tend to find them.
Daly said in his experience, most drunken drivers are local.
“They live here and are not visiting and should be more familiar with the transportation services that are available throughout the county,” Daly said.
Eagle County’s ECO Transit bus system runs the main corridors; city bus services in Avon, Vail and Beaver Creek cover much of the rest; and local taxis and ride sharing companies cover everything.
“Even with all that, people are still consuming too much alcohol and making the decision to drive,” Daly said.
A couple of years ago was a bad year for DUI deaths when a few 20-somethings were killed.
“They were young people who had everything to live for but their lives were cut short because they were riding with a driver who was impaired,” Daly said.
Anecdotally speaking, Daly said the blood alcohol level of those busted for DUI seems to be higher in recent years, approaching .19; .08 makes you a drunken driver.
“People are getting so drunk that they’re a lethal weapon,” Daly said. “Drink responsibly, and if you cannot drive home, make some plans.”
INCREASED DUI PATROLS
Tiftickjian’s interactive map comes just as the holiday DUI enforcement ramps up from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol and law enforcement agencies across the state.
The increased DUI enforcement starts Friday and runs through Monday.
“We know Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family and celebration, but we want Colorado’s residents and holiday guests to understand that impaired driving will not be tolerated,” said Darrell Lingk, director of CDOT’s Office of Transportation Safety. “Make a plan. If you’re going to drink at all, arrange a sober ride home. Otherwise, you put yourself and others at risk.”
CDOT recommends personal breathalyzers as a resource for checking your blood alcohol content to confirm you are sober before you drive.
CDOT’s R-U-Buzzed app allows users to track their blood alcohol content based on information they enter — weight, gender and the number and type of drinks consumed in a given time. The app compares the user’s estimated BAC with Colorado’s DUI and DWAI laws, and includes a “Back to Zero” estimate, which approximates when the user will be completely sober after they stop drinking.
R-U-Buzzed is free, Lingk said.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
Tiftickjian said if you are stopped, there are a few things you should not do:
• Do not agree to the voluntary roadside maneuvers. Do not follow a pen with your eyes or agree to walk an imaginary straight line; do not agree to stand on one foot for 30 seconds.
“Those are all voluntary. There’s no penalty for refusing,” Tiftickjian said.
Once you’re out of the car and you’re talking to an officer, you’re providing evidence, not proving your innocence, Tiftickjian said.
• That portable breath test — it’s also voluntary.
“If something is voluntary, there’s no reason to do it,” Tiftickjian said. “Instead of telling the officer that you had two beers, tell the officer you’re asserting your right to decline. Don’t lie, but remain silent.”
In August, Colorado’s new fourth-strike felony DUI law went into effect. Repeat offenders face up to six years in prison and fines up $500,000. The three offenses leading up to the fourth-strike felony charge can be comprised of both DUI or DWAI convictions.
“Unfortunately, preventing DUI/DWAI offenses is not as simple as filing felony charges against fourth-time offenders. Re-arrest rates for felons sent to prison are at about 40 percent,” Tiftickjian said. “Evidence shows that the true key to preventing DUI/DWAI recidivism is getting addicts appropriate intervention.”