According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), more than 26,000 people are arrested for drunk driving incidents in Colorado every year. Unfortunately, the drunk drivers police officers don’t catch are responsible for more than 150 fatal traffic crashes where alcohol played a key factor. By those numbers, drunk driving accounts for more than 30% of all traffic fatalities in Colorado.
While researching this alarming trend, CDOT discovered that males ages 21-35, a key DUI demographic, do not believe in “buzzed driving.” In short, they think it is acceptable to have “just a few drinks” before getting on the road, if they’re not visibly or noticeably impaired. What they don’t realize is that alcohol affects everyone differently, and any amount of intoxication is still against the law.
Last year during this time, CDOT launched a campaign called “A Few Can Still Be Dangerous,” to remind drivers that any and all impairment on the road can still affect a driver’s vision, judgement, and reaction time.
As part of the campaign, CDOT is encouraging drivers to use modern technology for additional safety options. For example, personal breathalyzers are now widely available, and some even attach directly to the driver’s smartphone. Last Labor Day weekend, CDOT employees hosted an event that allowed bar patrons to test their intoxication levels using these devices. They hoped the the event would encourage responsible alcohol use, and cut down on the number of Labor Day DUIs. The event attracted more than 3500 people. They also encouraged use of Uber and Lyft, ridesharing companies that are often more convenient than traditional cabs.
Unfortunately, warnings and education are not enough to deter repeat offenders, who often struggle with alcohol addiction. According to the Denver Post, one in three drivers arrested for DUI has a previous DUI arrest. In a state that has almost 30,000 drunk driving arrests every year, this can amount to 10,000 repeat offenders on the road at any given moment. In a three-year span, police re-arrested 5,679 people who had two or more DUI arrests, and 84 offenders had ten or more.
For many years, Colorado was one of the only four states that did not have a felony DUI offense. It was nearly impossible to ban repeat offenders from the road permanently. If the driver caused an accident, he or she would only be charged with a misdemeanor, even if the innocent victim was severely injured.
However, the Governor, John Hickenlooper, signed a felony DUI bill into law in 2015. The event took place in Wheat Ridge at Lifeloc Technologies, a manufacturing company. Family members and victims of DUI accidents, as well as law-makers who put pressure for stern action to be taken against DUI drivers, were present.
According to the Democrat, “The government world is measured in steps. You rarely get big change. However, this is a pretty big step.”
The law took effect later in August last year (2015) and makes drunk driving a felony. Every time a driver is charged for the fourth time for DUI, he faces up to 6 years behind bars as punishment. Previously, Colorado gave drivers misdemeanor charges with a maximum of one year imprisonment as punishment.
Although only a small fraction of the offenders will possibly get jailed for accidents that result from DUI, the increase in expenses incurred by prisons and judicial systems will see about $20 million spent in the first 3 years.
According to one of the people in attendance, who lost 3 family members in a drunken-driving accident, after the signing of the bill, “It is a bittersweet feeling. I feel like I’ve been putting off my need to grieve and I know that after today, it will hit me hard, knowing this is now over.”
Drunk drivers don’t just endanger their own lives, but also put everyone on the road at risk. If the driver has been warned repeatedly, their actions move from negligence to outright defiance of the law and complete disregard for the safety of others. In these cases, criminal laws may not be enough.
When criminal laws fall short, a Denver personal injury attorney can help you get justice. Civil lawsuits offer a crucial legal alternative for victims, allowing them to recoup losses, and hold reckless drivers personally accountable.
If you have lost a loved one to a drunk driver, or been seriously injured yourself, schedule a free consultation with Bendinelli Law Firm. Our experienced Denver car accident attorneys know the law inside and out, and we can help you get justice while protecting future drivers from unnecessary pain and suffering.