Colorado’s legislature passed House Bill 1315 on May 10th, its last day before adjourning for the year. The bill directs the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Research and Statistics to collect, analyze and publish DUI data to advise policy makers on the causes and results of DUI in Colorado. Like many states, Colorado has a single citation for DUI irrespective of cause; alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. Therefore, current state data cannot distinguish between alcohol-caused DUI and Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). The bill provides that data will be collected from courts, testing laboratories, evidentiary breath alcohol tests and the self-reports obtained during pre-sentencing evaluations of those convicted of DUI.
The bill does not provide for or pay for collecting new data. It merely collects data currently existing in separate silos that are not readily accessible, and it does so at a very low cost, to be recovered by a surcharge on all drivers convicted of DUI.
Courts will provide information on all DUI citations, typically approximately 25,000 annually, including the judicial outcomes of those citations. Since 30% of cited drivers refuse testing, and most tests are for only alcohol, drug testing results will be available for only a small portion of all cited drivers. For the year ending June 30, 2016, there were 6,333 drug tests reported in the state. Different forensic testing labs offer different drug screening panels, so even though all drug tests may be appropriate, they are not all equal.
Nevertheless, the number of forensic drug tests is about ten times greater than the number available from the state’s NHTSA’s FARS reports. Furthermore, all of the subjects from the new report will have been charged with DUI, whereas none of the cadavers tested by coroners for FARS were charged with DUI. The FARS report’s utility for DUID inferences is frequently criticized since FARS merely reports drug presence, and NHTSA acknowledges that drug presence does not necessarily mean drug impairment. In contrast, all subjects in Colorado’s new report will have shown sufficient evidence of impairment to be arrested for DUI.
A study of DUID prevalence in Colorado’s 2013 vehicular homicide and vehicular assault cases revealed that conviction rates for DUID were lower than those for DUI alcohol, and conviction rates for DUI due to marijuana were even lower. But the numbers in that report were too small to be compelling, due to the limited number of vehicular homicides and assaults. The new report should be able to provide further insight into conviction rate differentials as a function of DUI cause, as well as BAC and THC blood levels.
Conviction rates as a result of THC blood levels will be of particular interest to policy makers, some of whom are now aware that there is no scientific evidence to support the 5 ng/ml THC permissible inference level adopted by Colorado in 2013. Multiple laboratories have reported that the majority of test results of cannabinoid-positive drivers arrested on suspicion of DUI are below that 5 ng/ml THC level. This suggests that a 5 ng/ml THC “legal limit” may do more to deter prosecutions than to deter stoned driving.
DUID Victim Voices, a Colorado-based research and education organization, led the effort to create the bill, and was assisted by a wide range of stakeholders, including law enforcement, forensic labs, prosecutors and members of the Colorado Task Force on Drunk and Impaired Driving.
The Office of Research and Statistics expects its first report, based on 2016 data, to be available by March 1, 2018.