CDOT trains law enforcement statewide to identify impaired drivers

Heather Willard
Photo byColorado Department of Transportation

Heather Willard / NewsBreak Denver / Jan. 10, 2023

(Denver, Colo.)The Colorado Department of Transportation will train law enforcement agencies across the state to effectively investigate and recognize drug-impaired drivers Jan. 9-20.

The Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training is a nine-day, intensive program to give officers the knowledge, skills, and abilities to determine whether vehicle operators are impaired by one or multiple drugs.

CDOT identified 16 participating officers who, once they complete the course, can identify several drug categories: central nervous system depressants and stimulants, hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic analgesics, inhalants, and cannabis. Officers also will learn how to document the impairment for court.

“Drugs, alcohol or any combination of the two is a recipe for disaster and our law enforcement on the road need the skills to identify who is and isn’t impaired,” said Darrell Lingk, CDOT’s Office of Transportation safety director. “Through advanced training, our ability to identify impairment has increased dramatically from 20 years ago.”

Fatal crashes and DUI arrests involving multiple impairing substances are common.

The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) published a report in January 2022 analyzing more than 26,000 impaired driving cases that were filed in Colorado in 2019, following the cases from arrest through final disposition.

The DCJ report found:

  • 45% of drivers tested positive for multiple substances. Most commonly, drivers tested positive for alcohol and THC, which is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis and may indicate recent use
  • 68% of individuals with detected THC also had some other substance present, which was most often alcohol
  • Drug testing in 2019 began to include a full drug panel, revealing how often other drugs (beyond alcohol) are present. This explains the 36% rise during 2016-2019 of DUI cases involving stimulants.

"Despite consistent education and various transportation options, such as rideshares, impaired driving remains a top causal factor for fatal crashes in Colorado," said Col. Matthew Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. "By investing in specialized training on the behavioral and physiological detection of drug impairment, we hope to bolster law enforcement's ability to effectively combat drug-impaired driving and ultimately save lives."

The training includes “wet labs:” mock roadside impairment investigations where subjects drink alcohol and are screened by law enforcement. One of these mock events was held on Jan. 9 at Greenwood Village City Hall, and another is scheduled for 2:30-5 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Lone Tree Municipal Building, 9220 Kimmer Dr.

CDOT’s preliminary 2022 fatal crash data points to approximately 37% of the 736 road deaths involving an impaired driver.

After alcohol, CDOT found the top drugs used by impaired drivers involved in a fatal crash are marijuana (26%), methamphetamine (8%), amphetamine (7%) and cocaine (5%).

According to CDOT, patrol officers need to be able to judge between legal use and a level of dangerous impairment.

“There are so many variables involved with impairment from one or multiple drugs — DRE certification is an advanced level training,” said Glenn Davis of the CDOT Highway Safety Office.

“All officers initially get some basic impairment investigation training. Many more with an interest in traffic safety move on to Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training or ARIDE, which is a prerequisite for becoming a DRE.”

Colorado currently has 146 Drug Recognition Experts across 22 counties with the goal of reaching 200 more in the near future.

For more information on marijuana-impaired driving visit

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

Broomfield, CO

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