How Common Is a DUI in Denver?
Denver has a bad reputation when it comes to drunk driving. In fact, it topped the 2011 statistics for the most number of drunk driving arrests in the state of Colorado. It was followed by El Paso, Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Weld, Larimer, Boulder, Mesa and Douglas respectively.
In a state where there is no limit for drunk driving offenses, it is no surprise its justice system encounters around 31,000 drunk drivers every year. While many other states implement strict laws for multiple drunk driving offenses, Colorado does otherwise. In this state, even if it is already your 10th DUI arrest, it will not be considered a felony until you get someone injured or killed.
Truly, irresponsible drivers pose a great threat to public safety and affect thousands of families every year. To determine the solution to the unending problem on drunk driving, let us take a good look into the state’s laws, findings, analyses and efforts made to prevent the recurrence of the offenses.
Denver DUI laws
Colorado drunk driving laws which cover the Denver jurisdiction has two different charges, depending on blood alcohol content (BAC). A BAC of 0.05 percent will have you charged with driving while ability impaired (DWAI). If your BAC reaches 0.08 percent, you will be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). As a refresher, here are the penalties stated in Denver DUI laws:
• License suspension for 30 days to one year
• Fines ($300-$1000)
• DUI school
• Jail time and/or community service
Second offense within five years of the first offense:
• License revocation for five years
• Jail time
• DUI school
Second offense beyond five years of the first offense:
• License revocation for 180 days to one year
• DUI school
Efforts against DUI
Statistics from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation show that the state police arrests 30,000 drunk drivers every year. At least 30 percent of those drivers had at least one previous DUI arrest, and almost 20 percent had at least three previous arrests in their record. What is more alarming is, there are very few drivers who were arrested for more than twenty times. You must be asking: why are these people still free to drive on the streets?
The sad truth is, these figures were recorded after a collective national action against drunk driving. Colorado legislators implemented a law in 2004 that will:
• Lower the threshold for DUI
• Toughen plea-bargaining for DUI cases
• Increase sentences for DUI and DWAI
The state’s Persistent Drunk Driver Committee (PDDC) gathered statistics from each county and compared them to the state population data. These groups of information allowed them to make analyses and determine the behaviour of drunk drivers.
Also, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other advocacy groups against drunk driving contributed so much to the fight DUI. They helped educate and create public opinion about DUI and appealed to the families of DUI car crash victims to stand up and fight drunk driving.
Despite these efforts, more than 200 were accused of vehicular homicide for drunk driving and more than a thousand drivers were charged with physical injury. Still, hundreds are killed and injured in alcohol-related car crashes every year.
In 2007, several legislators united to implement a felony DUI law. However, the Colorado justice system faces a number of problems that will hinder getting ahold of DUI offenders:
• Inadequate budget
• Overcrowded jails
• Packed court dockets
• Overwhelmed probation system
Prosecutors also add to the problem as they differ in handling their cases. Some of them want to be tough on offenders while others are too lenient and prefer to be gentle on them.
Research findings and statistics
To have a clearer view of DUI cases in Denver, Colorado and Colorado as a whole, government entities and independent researchers made the following analyses. The statistics are from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Division of Behavioral Health.
1. Deaths from DUI have significantly decreased through the years. As a product of MADD and other advocates against drunk driving, together with the government, fatalities continue to decrease since 2005. However, the trend in other counties in Colorado exhibited otherwise. In 2009, the fatality rate of alcohol-impaired drivers in Denver increased 29 percent compared to the previous year. Fatalities caused by drunk drivers with BACs higher than 0.08 have also decreased over time.
2. Males are at a greater risk of getting killed in DUI-related accidents than females. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reported that males are four times most likely to get killed in drunk driving than females.
3. 75 percent of deaths from drunk driving happen at night. According to FARS, drivers and passengers are three times at risk of getting killed by a drunk driver at night time.
4. One in three drunk drivers arrested already had at least one previous DUI offense. Colorado’s lenient laws on DUI allow previously arrested drunk drivers to freely drive the state’s streets again until they get someone injured or killed.
5. 7 percent of arrested drunk drivers who completed DUI school get arrested again within four years.
Although Colorado’s Division of Behavioral Health asserts that its programs are effective, the behaviour of drivers is showing otherwise. They do not appear like they are learning from the penalties of DUI. Instead, they repeat the same mistakes and get arrested again.
Victims, advocates, concerned citizens, and even the police believe that the Colorado justice system is not taking enough action to make arrested drunk drivers learn their lesson. Multiple DUI arrests are not unusual anymore in the state, and there are even reported cases of drivers getting arrested for more than 20 times in their lifetime.
Moreover, statistics show that a person drives 86 times drunk before they get caught. This is how dangerous Colorado roads are for you and your family. The questions now are: how will the system stop drunk drivers from doing it again? How will it keep these offenders off the road? How will it ensure every family’s safety in Colorado roads?
Recently, a lawmaker sponsored a bill that will make a drunk driver’s third DUI in a seven year time period or fourth DUI in a lifetime a felony. If it passes, a driver convicted of DUI would face up to six years jail time. It is the second time he sponsored the bill. During the first time, other lawmakers opposed it as they say the prison costs too much.
The lawmaker believes the bill will truly enhance public safety. It is just high time for the Colorado government to overcome its problems with its lean budget, packed prisons and court dockets, and overwhelmed probation system. Penalties and punishments for every DUI offender must instill a sense of responsibility and that his or her irresponsible act can happen to his or her family.
In Denver, the district attorney’s office say it makes sure every DUI and DWAI case will not be pleaded down to a non-alcohol charge. Its goal is to severely punish every offender so he or she will not do it again.