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CDOT & MADD share impaired-driving stories to remind Coloradans to plan ahead and stay safe during 420

April 19, 2021 - Statewide News - Colorado State Patrol sees 90% increase in arrests of drivers impaired by alcohol combined with marijuana

Ethan Small was a 28-year-old finding his way in the world. He had recently launched his own social media consulting business and drove for a rideshare company on the side. January 19, 2019, Ethan dropped off a rideshare passenger at the Colfax at Auraria RTD station. On his way out of the station, the traffic light turned green, he entered the intersection and was broadsided by another driver going 90 miles per hour. Ethan didn’t survive. The driver of the other car was impaired on alcohol, marijuana and benzodiazepines.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Colorado are partnering to prevent more tragedies by sharing stories about victims of impaired drivers. The goal is to encourage Coloradans to plan ahead and stay safe during 420, Colorado’s unofficial cannabis holiday.

“We’ve surveyed close to 20,000 cannabis consumers on the issue,” said Sam Cole, CDOT communications manager. “And while many know that driving high is illegal, they still don’t understand how dangerous it can be to combine marijuana with alcohol. We hope these stories, told by real Coloradans, will change some minds and encourage people to find alternatives to driving impaired.”  

While alcohol remains the most common substance found in fatal crashes involving an impaired driver, there is a concerning uptick in fatal crashes that involve cannabis. The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes with active THC above the legal limit of 5 nanograms increased from 33 in 2017 to 49 in 2019. During those same years, fatalities that involved alcohol fell from 192 to 164. 

In addition, arrests are increasing for drivers impaired by multiple substances. According to Colorado State Patrol data, arrests increased 90% for drivers impaired by cannabis and alcohol and 17% for drivers impaired by cannabis and other substances between 2019 and 2020. Combining substances together, such as cannabis and alcohol, greatly increases impairment and the likelihood of a crash.

  • Colorado State Patrol cited 4,805 drivers for DUI in 2020. Of those, 865 involved alcohol combined with marijuana, up from 455 in 2019. 
  • While trace amounts of active Delta-9 THC don’t necessarily equate to impairment, the substance is appearing in driver toxicology tests more often. In 2019, of the 416 fatalities where a driver was tested for Delta-9 THC, 25% tested positive — up from 20% in 2016.
  • In 2020, there were 208 people killed by a suspected impaired driver in Colorado, which is 33% of all people killed in traffic crashes that year — and an 18% increase over 2019. 

According to a recently released report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “People who use both alcohol and marijuana are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road — they are significantly more likely to speed, text, intentionally run red lights, and drive aggressively than those who don’t. They are also far more likely to report driving under the influence of alcohol than those who consume only alcohol and not marijuana”  

“We work with people every day who are affected by impaired driving,” said Fran Lanzer, executive director of MADD Colorado, “and these stories show some of the tragic outcomes of drug- and alcohol-impaired driving — we hope that people realize that their choices can have very serious consequences and choose to make a plan for a safe ride home.” 

CDOT and MADD hosted a booth on April 19 at a Lightshade dispensary in Denver to share these stories, educate cannabis consumers, and encourage participants to learn more. Lightshade has partnered with CDOT on the marijuana-impaired driving campaign for more than five years and sits on the Colorado Task Force for Drunk and Impaired Driving. 

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration analysis of 60 studies has also concluded that cannabis use impairs the skills connected with the safe driving of a vehicle, such as tracking, muscle coordination, visual functions, and particularly, complex tasks that require multitasking. To view more research from NHTSA and partners, visit feeldifferentdrivedifferent.org/severity-of-impairment. 

MADD is also hosting a national online webinar panel on Tuesday, April 20 to discuss marijuana-impaired driving enforcement. CDOT’s Highway Safety Office will join the panel to speak about impaired-driving enforcement efforts in Colorado. Join the discussion on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/MADD.Official

Also, today Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) is launching a drugged driving program aimed at youth. This is the first peer-to-peer drugged driving campaign designed to educate young people on the dangers of drugged driving.  SADD will be working in schools across Colorado to implement the program.  More information is at SADD.org.

To learn more about CDOT’s marijuana-impaired driving campaign and view creative materials, visit DriveHighDUI.com


About MADD

Founded in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking. MADD has helped to save more than 400,000 lives, reduce drunk driving deaths by more than 50 percent and promote designating a non-drinking driver. MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® calls for law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for all offenders and advanced vehicle technology. MADD has provided supportive services to nearly one million drunk and drugged driving victims and survivors at no charge through local victim advocates and the 24-Hour Victim Help Line 1-877-MADD-HELP. Visit madd.org or call 1-877-ASK-MADD.