The holiday season is a time to celebrate, spend time with loved ones and reflect on the accomplishments and memories from the past year. However, some people spend this time dealing with the aftermath of another person’s choice to drive impaired. One of the worst calls you could receive is the call that a loved one has been injured or killed in a traffic crash.
December marks National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. We sat down with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Manager, Glenn Davis, to talk about the issues and challenges of impaired driving in Colorado, as well as the education and enforcement efforts in place to help reduce it statewide.
1. What exactly is the Highway Safety Office (HSO) and what role does it play in impaired driving prevention?
Every state and territory has a highway safety office, with Colorado’s Highway Safety Office residing in the Department of Transportation. In Colorado, one responsibility is applying for federal and state funding. And with that funding, the HSO develops, designs and delegates resources toward projects and programs with the mission of reducing traffic crashes and fatalities. I have programs I’m responsible for, which are mostly enforcement based. Part of the HSO’s mission is to provide funding to the appropriate agencies and offer oversight and guidance to ensure they utilize best practices for their DUI prevention and enforcement projects. The HSO has representatives in the Governor’s Marijuana Working Group, Marijuana Education Oversight Committee, the Colorado Task Force for Drunk and Impaired Driving, Persistent Drunk Driving Committee, State Traffic Records Advisory Committee, Colorado Young Driver’s Alliance, Motorcycle Operator Safety Advisory Board and State Emergency Medical Trauma Service Advisory Committee. We have also worked with the Peace Officer Standard Training to improve impaired driving curriculum training for Colorado Peace Officers. The HSO also works with different partners to make sure our message is consistent and see how we can work together.
2. Tell us a bit about your background in impaired driving prevention.
I’m retired from the Littleton Police Department after serving for 25 years. When I started in law enforcement, impaired driving prevention was even more challenging than it is now, but that’s because it didn’t have the same type of attention it does now. It wasn’t until Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) got involved in the 1980s, along with escalating impaired driving fatalities, that the Colorado legislature took notice. They enacted a law where impaired driving offenders would pay a fee that funded more enforcement. The federal government then got involved and created roadside sobriety tests. The state also began to utilize expressed consent laws, where if an arrested driver refuses a chemical test or tests at a high level, they lose their license immediately. Those three things really changed the environment for impaired driving, giving law enforcement more tools and raised public awareness. At the Littleton Police Department, I was the standard field sobriety test trainer and a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) trainer for the state. A DRE is a peace officer that receives advanced training to determine impairment by drugs other than alcohol.
I was one of the first Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (LEAF) officers—I was a full-time impaired driving officer, meaning that’s all I did. If other officers found someone who was impaired, they would call me, and I’d do the field test and the arrest.
3. What are the key components to impaired driving prevention?
Education, enforcement and awareness. We’re always out doing enforcement. Awareness is more than enforcement awareness, it’s also about why you shouldn’t drive impaired and knowing the alternatives. Enforcement is for the people unmoved by education and awareness. The HSO compiles enforcement data to help convey the magnitude of the problem.
See how Vladimir Jones works with the Colorado Department of Transportation to raise awareness of safe driving habits and laws.
4. What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) issues are involved in impaired driving?
Impaired driving is an equal opportunity crime. Anyone who operates a vehicle can put themselves in an impaired driving situation. Either as an offender or a victim. Because this is a statewide issue and everyone deserves a safe roadway, the HSO works with all communities and the state’s various law enforcement agencies, even the smaller agencies with just three or four people. The HSO can create an enforcement plan so local officers can take impaired drivers off the road. Impaired driving is also an equal opportunity danger that affects everyone.
Rural areas are sometimes overrepresented in fatalities because when they have serious crashes it can be difficult to get them to immediate medical care.
5. Why does impaired driving continue to be an issue on Colorado roads? What current trends are you noticing?
I think it’ll always be an issue to some degree. Driving when impaired by alcohol affects mood, judgment, eyesight and small muscle control—all skills needed to drive safely. What gets people into serious trouble is the judgment piece. The more alcohol people consume, the worse their judgment is and the more likely they are to drive and take risks. If impaired, a driver is putting themself and everyone else around them in danger. The state has come a long way since the ’80s when 50% of all fatalities were impaired—now it’s in the 30% range—but that has stabilized and it’s still too much. One of the reasons I think it’s still an issue is you may have fewer people driving impaired, but the likelihood of being in a crash is significantly higher once a person has enough alcohol, to a point when a crash is inevitable. Now, as opposed to the ’80s, drivers have options with rideshares like Uber and Lyft, there’s public transit, and everyone has phones to call someone for a ride. Now the state has the challenge of legalized recreational cannabis and its effects on traffic safety. The HSO has worked hard to get ahead of this, partnering with the cannabis industry and dispensaries to reach cannabis consumers. The HSO is committed to making a culture shift before one develops.
6. What do you envision for the future of impaired driving prevention?
I think with the new infrastructure bill there will be a closer look at how law enforcement does roadside tests specific to cannabis. I want Colorado to be at the heart of figuring that out in a way similar to how the first roadsides were developed. Determining how to test for cannabis impairment through a field test or by a device is a significant decision. As time goes by, new technology will also change the opportunity for people to drive impaired and change the culture and thoughts of those that drive. However, it comes down to old-fashioned law enforcement techniques and impairment detection.
7. What would you say to someone who is considering driving impaired?
It’s challenging to drive in Colorado under ideal conditions—you’re at the mercy of people you don’t know. When you start affecting judgment, eyesight, muscle control and mood, you increase the likelihood of getting in a crash. An impaired driving crash is not a traffic offense, it is a crime. It’s a huge risk. If you get in a crash and hurt someone, your life will never be the same.
Learn more about impaired driving prevention and what Colorado is doing to keep our roads safe at https://codot.gov/safety.
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