Despite pandemic, DUI numbers up significantly in 2020

Published: May. 26, 2020 at 7:55 AM MDT
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An ongoing pandemic and shuttered bars have made no dent in the state's DUI numbers.

On the contrary, Colorado State Patrol says impairment-related deaths in the first part of 2020 were double what they were in 2019.

The time frame troopers are looking at is the period between Jan. 1-April 30 -- which includes the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and when the stay-at-home order was in effect.

During those months, State Patrol says alcohol and marijuana-related crashes are up 32 percent from that time last year. And unfortunately, it's not just crashes involving impairment that are up; deadly DUI crashes have also doubled.

“It’s very hard for me to understand that, especially now that bars aren’t open, everybody is home,” DUI crash survivor Brittany Lamb told 11 News sister station KCNC.

Lamb was seriously injured in a DUI crash 23 years ago, which killed her aunt. The decision to drive drunk inadvertently claimed even more victims when a medical helicopter responding to the crash hit a power line, killing the pilot, two nurses and the driver himself.

"You know, that’s the scary part, is anybody can make a decision, and not only will it affect their own life, but somebody else’s life," Lamb said.

State Patrol says it's unclear what exactly is leading to the rise in these crashes, other than poor decision-making.

“We know life is different for all of us right now. You might think that stay-at-home orders would mean fewer tragedies on our roads,” said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “While overall traffic fatalities might be down, injury and fatal crashes caused by drug and alcohol use are up. We know that even during the pandemic, drunk and drugged driving haven’t stopped. Our efforts to remove impaired drivers from our roads haven't stopped either.”

Colorado Executive Director of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Fran Lanzer believes the lighter traffic may be lulling some drivers into a false sense of security.

“I think it has a lot to do with the speed. “There’s not as much traffic, so people are driving a lot faster in general, and again, when you combine drunk or drugged driving with that high rate of speed it’s very dangerous," Lanzer told KCNC.

In addition to the human toll, impaired driving can come with a hefty price tag for offenders to the tune of thousands of dollars in fines, as well as license suspension and jail time.

“There’s a lot of options right now. You could spend $20 on an Uber instead of $30,000 on a DUI," Lamb said.